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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator

Hebrews 12

 

 

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Verse 1

Verse 1-2

Hebrews 12:1-2

Compassed about with so great a cloud

Great men:

The witnesses that God has set before the eyes of men are twofold, the witness of greatness and the witness of goodness, the witness of the hero and the witness of the saint.
To name these two together is at once to put the one far above the other. Without any argument we feel at once that the hero and the saint belong to different spheres, the hero to nature, the saint to religion; the hero to the earth, the saint to heaven if we examine what sort of a man we call great, we shall always find that it is one who leads his fellow-men. We do not call a man great simply for cleverness, nor for worldly success, the fruit of cleverness. Nor, again, do we call a man great for exceeding goodness, if he have nothing in him which makes that goodness a guide, and not merely a reverenced wonder to his fellows. A great man is he who stands out from others, not for some accidental difference, but for something which makes others follow his lead, acknowledge his power, accept his teachings, admire his course. Such a man will be sure to be marked with these characteristics; he will have a large mind, a strong conviction, and a firm will.

1. He must have a large mind to take in, and feel in full force the truths or the impulses which are dimly and dumbly moving in the minds of his fellow-men. This is the necessary condition of his being able to take the lead. In the great man all that is narrow and confined to himself is overpowered by what is large, what is shared and felt by thousands beside. He has room in his heart for many interests, for many impulses, for many aims; and he has that within him that shall comprehend and reconcile them all into one great purpose.

2. To this large soul he must add deep convictions. For he will be sure to meet with such obstacles as none but leaders ever meet. He will be aiming at that which is to last for centuries; but he will find straight in his path the passing passions of the day, roused to fiercer enmity by their own shallowness. Even when he is following the deep current, which none but himself is deep enough to feel, he will be stemming all the shallower currents which bear on their surface those that are living in his day. Hence it often happens that as long as he lives he sees no signs of success. He works his work; he sows his seed; but he never sees the harvest. What shall carry a man through all this? Nothing but faith. Be the great man a good man or a bad; be he like Elijah, a prophet and a faithful servant; or be he like Balaam, a prophet and a traitor, nothing can carry him through what he must often encounter but a deep conviction of the truth by which he lives; that truth, whatever it may be, of which he is the messenger.

3. The great man will need, besides a large heart and a deep conviction, a strong will. This is so indispensable a condition of greatness that we frequently fancy that strength of will is almost the whole of greatness, and are prone to admire that beyond all else that we see in a great man. And, indeed, if not the highest element in a great man’s nature, it is yet the one which saves the others from downright degradation. What spectacle is more contemptible than clear knowledge combined with weakness? What character is more universally despised than that of a coward? So absolutely necessary is courage to all true service that we have been made by God with a natural admiration even of wicked courage, in order, no doubt, that we should learn early to put on a piece of armour which we cannot do without, and that even nature should assist us in the first element of our spiritual lesson. What is the crown that must be added to all these qualities to make the great man true to his own greatness? It is loyalty to his true Master. (Bp. Temple.)

The cloud of witnesses

I. THE WITNESSES. And what are the truths they bear witness to?

1. They bear witness to the fact that their confidence in God was not misplaced. A man may fail, but God never.

2. They bear witness to the sufficiency of Divine grace. They had no more natural goodness than we; but they overcame it all, and it was in the strength of the Lord they did so.

3. They bear witness to the faithfulness of God to His promises.

II. THE APOSTLE’S ADVICE.

1. We are to “lay aside every weight.” I need scarce name particular things. In some it is vanity, in others worldliness, in others unlawful pleasure, in others a violent temper, others unholy attachments. It is, in fact, whatever deadens thy soul, and holds thee back when thou shouldest be pressing forward to the skies.

2. We are to renounce “the sin that doth so easily beset us.” To “beset,” means “to surround,” and the sin that so easily besets us is that to which we are most liable. Very often, indeed mostly, it is that sin to which we were most given before our conversion: as when a breach is made in a wall, it is easier to effect another breach in that place, although it may be built up again, than where stone has never been dislodged. With different constitutions, and with different ages, there are different easily besetting sins. With youth it is often passion--evil desire. With age it is often fretfulness--peevishness. With the rich it is often pride and grasping of power; with the poor it is often repinings against providence. With the healthy it is often forgetfulness of God, and of their latter end; with the sick it is often rebellion against Him who lays on the rod.

3. We are also to “ run with patience the race set before us.” If a thing take us a long time in doing, we are inclined to be impatient about it. Or, if the word may be more properly translated,” perseverance.” Then, if a journey is long, we are generally inclined to grow weary and loiter by the way. But if the road is long and dusty, we are to be patient. If the trial is severe, we are to be patient, and not allow our souls to be agitated. Sometimes the blessing we expect may be delayed, but we are to be patient in waiting for it. Sometimes our persecutions may be fierce indeed, but we are to be patient whilst we endure them. This grace is like the rivet that binds all the machinery together.

III. WE HAVE A GLORIOUS EXAMPLE SET BEFORE US. “Looking unto Jesus.” Christ endured the Cross, and He endured it patiently. (W. G.Pascoe.)

Good men in both worlds

I. THE GOOD THAT HAVE DEPARTED TO THE CELESTIAL WORLD.

1. They live.

2. They live in vast number’s. “Cloud.”

3. They live as spectators of their surviving brethren on earth. “Witnesses.” Though with the politics, commerce, and crafts of the world they have nothing to do, they are intensely alive to its spiritual interests and activities.

II. THE GOOD THAT ARE STILL LIVING ON THE EARTH.

1. Their life is like a racecourse. They both have their limitation, rules, intense activity, speedy termination.

2. Their life, to realise its end, requires great attention.

3. Their life should be salutarily influenced by the good who have departed. “Wherefore, seeing,” etc.

III. THE GLORIOUS REDEEMER OF THE GOOD IN BOTH WORLDS. “Looking unto Jesus,” dec. Christ is the chief example of human goodness.

1. He was pre-eminent as an example in the spirit that inspired Him. Self-oblivion.

2. Preeminent in the grandeur of soul with which He met unparalleled sufferings.

3. Pre-eminent in the exaltation which He ultimately met. (Homilist.)

Immortality

I. To any thoughtful and aspiring person, sensitive to fine influences, desirous of mental and moral advancement, eager for opportunities for culture or for usefulness, THERE IS ALWAYS A SENSE OF EXHILARATION IN FEELING HIMSELF CONNECTED WITH A VARIOUS, SPLENDID, WIDELY-EXTENDED, SOCIAL SYSTEM. It impels naturally to larger effort, gives expansiveness to the whole plan of life, furnishes incentives to nobler personal aspiration and hope. It dignifies, instead of dwarfing, the individual personality. It widens the whole horizon of thought and expectation, and makes one more sensible of both the responsibility and the privilege of life.

II. It is the privilege of the Christian to feel and know that he is associated NOT ONLY WITH SUCH SOCIETIES ON EARTH, BUT WITH VAST AND GLORIOUS AND PURE REALMS OF LIFE WHICH EYE HATH NOT YET SEEN, and of which there comes no whisper to us through the silent blue, yet with which our relations are already intimate, into which we are to pass at death, and in which we are to dwell thenceforth immortally. It cannot be said that there is a prophecy of this in human nature; but there is an instinct in human nature which prepares us for the reception of it when announced to us in the gospel. We can conceive of ourselves in any relation to others, imaginable--in any place on earth, in any position- but we cannot conceive of ourselves as non-existent.

III. THE MORE CLEARLY WE APPREHEND THESE HIGHER REALMS OF LIFE, THE MORE DEEPLY WE FEEL OUR PERSONAL AND VITAL RELATIONS TO THEM, THE MORE WILL THEY, BY THE INFLUENCE WHICH FALLS FROM THEM, ENRICH AND EXALT OUR DAILY LIFE.

1. For one thing they lessen the attraction of the world upon our minds and hearts. In our times this world seems to draw the spirit to itself, almost as the power of gravitation holds the body to the planet. Some months ago we had an ice storm. The gently descending rain froze as it fell, until it covered every tree and shrub with a raiment of brilliancy, as if it had been plaited in diamond and hung with diamond drops. It was superb to look upon, almost an apocalypse of natural beauty. Yet the very splendour broke the tree. The brilliant garniture overwhelmed that which was tender and vital in the shrub which it adorned. So it is with the great and splendid accumulations of wealth and the ornaments of pleasure that are so feverishly and anxiously sought. They destroy in us, often, by their very attainment, that which is finest and grandest in our spiritual nature. How shall we resist this encompassing influence? We cannot resist it by force of will; we might as well try to jump from the planet. We cannot extricate ourselves from the constant social influences which are around us, leading us to these results. We must somehow or other rise above it all. As long as we contemplate that into which we are to enter by and by, we are comparatively careless of that which is beneath. It ceases to make that masterful impression on our spirits which otherwise it had made, and which otherwise it must always make.

2. The contemplation of this superior life inspires, too, the noblest culture of character. As the sunshine of the morning lifts the mists, and reveal the landscape, and clothes it with a mantle of beauty, making the very rock burst into life and surround itself with verdure, so this influence from above, from the celestial realms which we have not reached, but toward which we are tending, and the gates of which Christ opens to us, disperses from the spirit what is malefic or obscure, and prints a new and vital beauty on it all.

3. This thought is also a vast incentive to the culture of power in us, of personal, moral, and intellectual power, for which there must be range in those circles of life which we are to join, if we are the disciples of the Divine Lord.

IV. Here, then, you see at once THE MISCHIEVOUS TENDENCY OF SCEPTICAL THOUGHT, WHICH TENDS TO OBSCURE THIS VISION OF THE WORLD TO COME, and to make it signify a mere fancy, a mere dream of the world’s youth, which, as the race goes on, will more and more be dissipated, as the tinted clouds of morning disappear when the sun rides higher and higher to the meridian.

V. HERE IS THE GLORY OF THE GOSPEL. I do not find the most striking prophecies of the future life in any mere words of Scripture. I find them in the fact that He who had the power of miracle in His hands surrendered Himself to death, that afterward He might open the kingdom of heaven to all believers. There is the supreme glory of the celestial realms manifested to me by the agony of that death! The gospel is not simply a philosophy of religion, or a law of living. It is an apocalypse showing the heavens to us, and bringing thus its Divine benediction on every life. Here is the Divine mission of preaching; here is the beauty of every sacrament; here the glory of every Church. Here is the hidden meaning and blessedness which the thought of heaven brings in the events which seem most painful. So when our beloved friends pass from us; so when misfortunes come upon us; this thought of the higher life comes to cheer and comfort. (R. S. Storrs, D. D.)

The Christian runner in relation to his spectators

I. THE CHRISTIAN RUNNER IS AN OBJECT OF DEEP INTEREST TO HIS SPECTATORS.

1. The position of the spectators. They surround the Christian runner.

2. Their number. Vast.

II. THE CHRISTIAN RUNNER SHOULD PUT FORTH GREAT EFFORTS BECAUSE OF HIS SPECTATORS.

1. He should divest himself of every encumbrance. Ceremonialism, religious errors, business perplexities, fear of man, inveterate prejudices, sinful propensities.

2. He should avoid the sin to which he is most peculiarly prone.

Pride, covetousness, intemperance, evil-speaking, anger.

3. He should maintain great self-possession. “Run with patience.”

III. THE CHRISTIAN RUNNER HAS AN OBJECT BEFORE HIM, FROM WHICH HIS THOUGHTS SHOULD NOT BE DIVERTED by his spectators. “Looking unto Jesus.”

1. The work of Jesus.

2. The history of Jesus.

3. The exaltation of Jesus. (Homilist.)

The moral influence of departed saints:

The North American Indians believed that when the flowers faded in the forest and prairie their beauty passed into the rainbow: thus our kindred and companions, the joy and pride of our homes and churches, fade away; but, lifting our eyes, we see our lost ones blossom forth again in the holier beauty of the rainbow about the throne. The text reminds us that these exalted ones exercise towards us a morally helpful influence. We are not to think of our exalted brethren as forming in the midst of heaven a brilliant cloud, admirable in the eye of imagination, yet exercising no real practical influence over the earth; but as a cloud full of mystic rain and dew, imparting life and beauty to those who dwell on the earth. Our beatified friends become our moral helpers.

I. BY DIVERTING OUR ATTENTION FROM THIS TO THE ETERNAL WORLD. As the dove sent from the ark, returning no more, reminded Noah that a new world was blooming for him; so these departed ones who return no more, daily and powerfully remind us that another and brighter world is blooming for us beyond death’s cold flood, and in earnest we prepare to leave this storm-tossed ark. The “cloud of witnesses” cause us to look above the dust; gazing after their departing forms we find ourselves standing face to face with eternity, and thus acquire the seriousness, spirituality, and strength of the Christian character.

II. BY ENHANCING THE CHARM OF THE CELESTIAL WORLD. The departed saints humanise heaven, interpret it, render it more fascinating. It is true that the grand charm of the skies is the vision and fellowship of the glorious God, yet it is not less true that every saint who passes into paradise invests it with a fresh and powerful influence. Each crowned friend makes us understand heaven better, makes us prize it the more, makes us strive more ardently to reach its bright and wealthy plains.

III. BY INCREASING OUR SENSE OF SELF-RESPECT. Our departed ones are no longer before us in weariness and humiliation, but crowned with inconceivable and unfading splendours; and as we gaze upon them a new conception of our spiritual capacity takes possession of us--we feel that we belong to a race of conquerors and kings. It is said that the Kohei-noor diamond is only half its original size, the other half being in a distant country, where it was found in the possession of some one who used it as a common flint. Thus our churches, our families, are broken into two parts; one portion being exulted to the palace of the skies, the other fragment remaining in this lower realm, and used to ends apparently most commonplace and servile; yet we cannot contemplate the broken jewel, shining in the palace of the King, without thinking more highly of this other portion below, and watching it with intenser care lest its beauty should be dimmed, or its preciousness impaired, or its safety imperilled. Our celestial kinsmen minister to us, for they exalt our conception of the nature we possess, of the inheritance to which we are destined.

IV. BY GIVING US THE SENSE OF AN ABIDING SACRED PRESENCE. The Jewish legend relates that Joseph was saved by the spirit of his mother, when he was tempted to sin in the ]and of Egypt. This legend is founded in the truth that the powerful and blessed memory of our dead is a preservative against sin, a strengthening to virtue. And this is the precise idea of Paul in our text. “We are surrounded,” says he to his Hebrew brethren, “by a great cloud of heroes; let us, under the eyes of these pure, noble, valiant spirits, act a worthy part; let us labour to be as pure, noble, valiant as they were.” Thus again are the glorified ones our helpers; these beatified spectators put upon us a sweet constraint to walk as they also walked, so that we may triumph as they also triumphed.

V. BY THE CONSCIOUSNESS OF THEIR SYMPATHY. Altered in many respects, the glorified saints have still the same hearts, and profoundly sympathise with us in all our upward struggles. The “ cloud “ about us is composed not of cold and curious spectators, but of warm and interested friends. Is not this fact a blessed help to us? The transfigured ones beckon us onward! upward! and the knowledge of this sympathy is to us in the day of tribulation a fountain of strength.

VI. BY STIMULATING OUR HOPE AND COURAGE. Again and again Satan almost paralyses us with his lofty vaunts of the might and majesty of evil. Sin rises before us so strong, so subtle, so mysterious and awful, that we are almost ready to surrender at discretion. The evil of our nature, the evil of the universe, seems well-nigh omnipotent. How fatal is this idea to our spiritual life! Nothing shatters this destructive imagination more than the triumphant death and exaltation of the saints. To see our brother on the crystal walls I our sister crowned with amaranth! our friends with the palm and diadem! how this reassures us! We feel that Satan is not omnipotent, that sin is not invincible, that suffering is not unconquerable. (W. L.Watkinson.)

Lay aside every weight

Weights and sins:

There is a regular series of thoughts in this clause, and in the one or two which follow it. If we would run well, we must run light; if we would run light, we must look to Christ. The central injunction is, “Let us run with patience”; the only way of doing that is the “laying aside all weights and sins”; and the only way of laying aside the weights and sins is, “looking unto Jesus.” Of course, the apostle does not mean some one special kind of transgression when he says, “the sin which doth so easily beset us.” He is speaking about sin generically--all manner of transgression. It is not, as we sometimes hear the words misquoted, “that sin which doth most easily beset us.” All sin is according to this passage a besetting sin.

I. THERE ARE HINDRANCES WHICH ARE NOT SINS. Sin is that which, by its very nature, in all circumstances, by whomsoever done, without regard to consequences, is a transgression of God’s law. A “weight” is that which, allowable in itself, perhaps a blessing, the exercise of a power which God has given us--is, for some reason, a hindrance in our running the heavenly race. The one word describes the action or habit by its inmost essence, the other describes it by its accidental consequences. Then, what are these weights? The first step in the answer to that question is to be taken by remembering that, according to the image of this text, we carry them about with us, and we are to put them away from ourselves. It is fair to say, then, that the whole class of weights are not so much external circumstances which may be turned to evil, as the feelings and habits of mind by which we abuse God’s great gifts and mercies, and turn that which was ordained to be for life into death. The renunciation that is spoken about is not so much the putting away from ourselves of certain things lying round about us that may become temptations, as the putting away of the dispositions within us which make these things temptations. It is an awful and mysterious power that which we all possess, of perverting the highest endowments, whether of soul or of circumstances, which God has given us, into the occasions for falling back in the Divine life. Just as men, by devilish ingenuity, can distil poison out of God’s fairest flowers, so we can do with everything that we have.

II. And now, if this be the explanation of what the apostle means by “ weights”--legitimate things that hinder us in our course towards God--there comes this second consideration, IF WE WOULD RUN, WE MOST LAY THESE ASIDE. There are two ways by which this injunction of my text may be obeyed. The one is, by getting so strong that the thing shall not be a weight, though we carry it; and the other is, that feeling ourselves to be weak, we take the prudent course of putting it utterly aside. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Weights

I. THE “WEIGHTS”--what are they?

1. The “ weight” of unforgiven sin. How that hinders many. You have offended a father or teacher or friend--you have been guilty of disobedience or untruthfulness or dishonesty. How heavy it is! What a weight it is! If it has not been found out it lies like lead on your heart. How it hinders you in everything you put your hands to! Or the fault has been discovered, and you are in disgrace. Your dearest friends are displeased. You feel as if there were a great gulf between you and them. You are unhappy. You cannot get on with anything. You are just like one weighed down under a heavy burden. Whether it is work or play, company or solitude, there is a weight dragging you down in all. Now if it is so with sin as committed against man, what shall we say of sin as committed against God! How different your life would be if your sin were all forgiven; how different your worship would be; how different your work would be!

2. The “weight “ of unsubdued sin. 1 shall try to explain what I mean by this. I shall suppose we are setting out on a long voyage. We have storms and contrary winds to contend with, and sometimes icebergs and dangerous rocks and opposing currents. But we have what is even worse than these. Some of the ship’s crew are mutinous. They will not obey orders. They try to set the other sailors up against the captain. They damage the ship’s machinery. They reverse the engines. They put out the fires. They do everything they can to provoke and hinder. And the consequence is, the ship’s progress is seriously interfered with. Sometimes she comes to a stand altogether. In any case the voyage is slow and uncomfortable, as compared with what it should have been. At times it seems as if all on board must go to the bottom. Now what is wanted is, that the mutineers should be subdued--changed into obedient and right-hearted seamen, or put in irons and kept from doing harm. So long as they are unsubdued they are a “weight” that seriously hinders. Now, is there no “weight,” no hindrance of this kind with you? Is there no stubborn will that disobeys, and must needs be broken if things are to get on at all? What of your temper that bursts into passion on the slightest provocation, and in words or looks or actions gets outlet to itself, in a way that may well alarm? What of your pride and vanity? What of your selfishness, that disregards others and is always seeking your own gratification and pleasure? What of secret sins which you try to conceal, but which are always growing stronger, and if unsubdued will go on as they are doing, burning like a fire within, and eating out your very heart and soul? So long as these have the power which they have now, every now and then getting the better of you, your life can neither be happy nor good.

3. The “weight” of evil habits. I do not refer so much here to single acts that are out and out bad and sinful. I refer more to things that may seem so far harmless at the beginning, but are apt to be repeated and to grow upon one, till they become habits, and rule him and hold him in chains. There is, for instance, the habit of procrastination--of putting off, instead of doing a thing at once. That grows terribly upon one, and becomes a hindrance of a very serious kind. There is the habit of drinking. There is the habit of idle and unprofitable reading, not to speak of what is positively bad. It consumes precious time, it takes away relish for prayer and for the Bible and all solid reading, it excites without doing any good, it takes away the heart from God. There is the habit of keeping company with unprofitable companions.

4. The last “weight” I shall mention is that of care. Perhaps this may seem not very much in your way, and more for your fathers and mothers. And yet I know even young hearts have their care--about lessons, and work otherwise, often not knowing what to do--with sorrows which are sometimes heavy and bitter enough. I am sure there are none of you who do not know something about these “weights,” and could tell how they hinder you in what is good. They will have much to do in making you the men and women that you shall be. And hence the great importance of looking at the matter, and that at once.

II. WHAT IS TO BE DONE WITH THE WEIGHTS? Our text says they are to be “laid aside”--put off--cast away. Now the question is, how is this to be done? and to this question I have various answers to give.

1. By coming to Christ. The first “weight” to be got quit of is that of unforgiven sin, and like “Christian’s” burden, that can only be got rid of at the Cross.

2. By drawing power from Christ. It is just like a man with all the resources of the bank at his call. He can have no fear of wanting anything. Christ has all that any of us can need, and He has it for us. Faith is just leaning upon Christ--looking to Christ--drawing upon Christ for everything.

3. By prayer. When we feel our own weakness, what can we do but cry to the Strong for strength?

4. By effort. We have the battle to fight, not in our own strength, but in the strength which Jesus gives. Now I wish to call special attention before closing to this--that we are to lay aside every weight. There is to be no sparing. Everything that hinders must go. (J. H. Wilson, D. D.)

Spiritual weights:

Spiritual weights are of many descriptions. They may originate in the very senses. Life in the world, in the enjoyment of good things, in the pursuit of wealth and position, may grow to such unwieldy proportions that the Christian conscience has enough to do to vitalise the mass, and cannot energise it to a race. Then the play of the ordinary human affections and social human instincts is allowed such preponderance, that the man becomes gregarious, has so absorbed the opinions and prejudices and criticisms of his circle, that swift, decisive, forward motion is impossible. He lies, like a great hulk in the wash of worldly opinion, without helm or sail. Big, human-hearted he may be, but power of initiative or incentive has he none. But some will add to their faith, tradition. They must keep on with usages which had been put away--aye, and add mere ordinances of men. And now, clogged in every organ of the soul, they are ready to give up in despair. The superinduced mass of ceremonial, imparting no strength, is closing round the vitals of living faith and hindering its every movement. But in addition to habits of mind and life hindering men from spiritual progress, there are weights imposed by men on themselves, which hinder advance and enfeeble the soul. They have their money in so many ventures, they are pursuing at one time so many schemes, or they are so engrossed in the one or two to which they have given themselves up, that they have little or no time for serious thought. Yea, they cannot shift their thoughts out of the worldly rut when they have time. They must have distraction, pleasure, society, travel, to relieve the jaded mind. And it is not merely in business that men put on weights. Some live in a whirl of social engagements, others to exalt their sense of self-importance, or from nobler motives heap on public engagements; yea, not a few in this our time are crowding on the back of every day so many spiritual or religious engagements that the life of God in them is weighted in its advance. They are dwindling under the pressure, or, at all events, they are not growing in life and thought and will as they might grow. What are we to do? Throw all our engagements away? By no means. Steam would be a useless thing if it were not generated within an engine. It is by working on through the engine’s means that it becomes a power. And so the life of grace needs an environment of work and service through which to reveal its power. It must be embodied in deeds, and there is no lawful sphere in which grace may not shine. What I say is, that you may overload your engine and that you may overweight your grace. What is holding you down and keeping you back? Are you doing futile and unnecessary things--that is, things which, though innocent, are merely for self, apart from Christ? You cannot be wrong in putting them away. Are you doing too many things, so that you are distracted, and thus retarded? Remember that you are running the race of perfection, seeking entire likeness to Christ, and your very work will come to suffer if this religious dissipation go on. Rearrange, economise, lay aside every weight. (John Smith, M. A.)

The sin which cloth so easily beset us

The besetting sin

1. We have to strive against the whole body of sin, everything which is against the holy will of God, “every evil inclination, all iniquity and profaneness, neglect and haughtiness, strife and wrath, passion and corruption, indolence and fraud, every evil motion, every impure thought, every base desire, every unseemly thought.”

2. We have all, probably, some one besetting fault, which is our own special hindrance. Both of these we must learn by looking into ourselves. They vary in all. No two persons have exactly the same temptations, as no two minds are exactly alike. And so we ought not to judge of others, nor can we judge of ourselves by them. We must look into ourselves. We have, then, these two searches into ourselves to make: one into every part of ourselves; the other into that part of ourselves which is the weakest, and through which we most often fall. Of these, holy men recommend that we should begin with our besetting fault. For this there are many reasons. It lies, most likely, at the root of many other faults. It burrows under ground, as it were, and comes up at a distance, where we look not for it. It branches out into other faults; it twines round and kills some grace; it hides itself behind other faults or virtues; it puts itself forth in the midst of them. It colours every other fault; it interferes with, or overshadows or overlays every grace. But the more this one fault spreads, the more, if you uproot it, you will clear of the field of your conscience, the more will your heart become the good ground, which, freed from thorns, shall bear fruit, thirty, sixty, a hundredfold, to life everlasting.

Thou hast, then, great reason to be most watchful to uproot thy besetting sin, because

1. It is the root of other sins, gives occasion to them, makes them as bad as they are, makes acts which would have no sin to be sinful, because they have this sin in them. And so, while thy besetting sin reigns in thy soul, it is the parent of many other sins; when it is destroyed many others die with it.

2. It is the sin which has most hold of thy mind, and so it is the cause why thou most often offendest God. It comes to thee oftenest, tempts thee most strongly, and where thou art the weakest and yieldest the most readily. It is called the besetting sin, because it continually besets thee--that is, it is always about thee, always on the watch for thee. It entangles thee at every step. More of a man’s sins are done through his besetting sin than through all besides. It becomes his companion. He becomes so inured to it that he does not think of it as sin, or justifies it, or, at least, pleads to himself that his nature is weak and that he cannot help it. Nature is weak; but grace is strong, yea, almighty.

3. Then, too, it is the occasion of a man’s worst sins, because a man yields his mind most to it, goes along with it, does it with pleasure. All sin is, to choose something else rather than God. But to choose a thing eagerly, with zest, taking delight in it against the wise love of God, this is the deadliest form of sin.

4. Then it will most likely be that, when not tempted in act, a man will be tempted to the thought of his besetting sin, both before and after. And so he acts his sin over again in thought, when he cannot in deed. Thus he may multiply his sin beyond all power of thought. Such, then, are grounds from the nature of the besetting sin itself, why thou shouldest earnestly and specially strive against it. It is thy deadliest enemy; that which most keeps thee from God, if unhappily thou art separated from Him; if not, still it is that which most offends Him, which hinders His love from flowing to thee and filling thee, which hinders thee from loving Him with thy whole heart. But then for thyself, too, it is thus that thou wilt have most courage to fight. It has been, no doubt, discouraging at some time to most of us that we could not become good all at once. Our garden, which we were to make clean, seemed full of weeds. They seemed to spring up fresh every day; how could we clean it? And so the weeds of our sins grew, as they would, left to themselves, with more luxuriant, foul rankness. It is said that one who thought thus, dreamed that He who had given him his garden to cleanse, came to him and asked him what he was doing. He said, “I lost all hope of cleaning my garden, so I laid down to sleep.” His Good Father said to him, “Clean every day as much as thou coverest, where thou art lying, and all will be in time cleaned.” So God speaks to us. “Set about some one thing for Me; set thyself to get rid of some one sin for love of Me, to become in one thing more pleasing to Me, and I will be with thee; I will give thee victory in this; I will lead thee on from victory to victory, from strength to strength; thou shalt run and not be weary; thou shalt walk, and not be faint.’” By the same strength by which thou prevailest over thy first enemy, thou shalt prevail over the rest. IN human warfare, those who fight are tired even by their victory; in Divine warfare, they are strengthened.

For they fight not in human weakness, but in Divine strength; and “ My strength,” He says, “is made perfect in weakness.” There is another good in fighting against thy besetting sin. Thou art gathered upon one point. Thou art striving with thy whole heart to please God in that point; thou wilt be asking for and using God’s grace for this. But therewith, secretly, thou wilt be transformed thyself. In learning to subdue one sin, thou wilt have been learning how, in time, to subdue all. Thou wilt have learnt the wiles of the enemy, the weakness of thy own heart, the force of outward temptations, the need to avoid, if thou canst, the outward occasion, but, in any case, the necessity of resisting in the first moment of assault. Thou wilt know, for thyself, the might which God gives thee when thou so resistest, the power of instant prayer. Thou wilt have felt the peril of tampering with sin, the value of watchfulness, the danger of security after thou hast conquered. Thou wilt have tasted the blessedness of gathering up thy whole mind to serve God, and giving thyself to Him morning by morning, to please Him in this, and not to displease Him. Thou wilt have known, in thine own soul, the value of obeying at once any suggestions which, by His Holy Spirit or in thy conscience, He giveth thee to avoid this or do that. (E. B.Pusey, D. D.)

Causes of propensity to peculiar vices

I. THE PRINCIPAL CAUSES OF OUR BIAS OR PROPENSITY TO SOME PARTICULAR VICE.

1. A propensity to particular sins may be complexional, derived from constitutional frame and temperament. Men are born with different propensities to pleasure, avarice, ambition, resentment, malice, envy, or the like. They may, indeed, by various methods be cultivated, and acquire vigour; but the seeds of them seem to be natural to the soil, and, in proportion to our neglect of them become still more difficult to be extirpated.

2. Another occasion of propensity to particular vices is, the power of custom or habit; which is commonly reputed a second nature, a kind of new nature ingrafted upon the former; and is often, in its influence and effects, not much inferior to it. It is to this principle, e.g., not to nature, that we may ascribe the vice of intemperance. Nature approves moderation; is disgusted and oppressed by excess. But custom leads men beyond the temperate limits marked out by nature into the extremes of intemperance; where, though nature denies them permanent pleasures, they form to themselves some that are fantastic, and subsist only in imagination. Another sin into which men are led by mere custom, and by nothing else, is the common practice of profaning the name of God.

3. Another occasion of a bias or inclination to some particular vice, may arise from our situation and condition of life. Every situation is exposed to some peculiar inconvenience; every condition of life to its own trials. Thus, affluence and poverty have each their respective inducements. And the same observation might be extended to the different periods of life, and to different professions and employments.

II. THE OBLIGATION INCUMBENT ON US, OF ENDEAVOURING TO CORRECT OR LAY IT ASIDE. The greater the propensity we feel in ourselves towards any culpable passion or failing, with the more care should we guard against it. It is in our power to maintain the authority of reason, to oppose the corruptions of our nature and the dominion of evil habits; to resist seducements from objects without, and temptations from passions within us. This is the proper work and business of religion: this the duty which God requires at our hands; and has therefore, undoubtedly, given us ability to perform. One great obstacle, indeed, to the correcting or guarding against the sin that most easily besets us, is the difficulty we often find in discovering and detecting it. Such likewise is the prepossession in our own favour, so flattering the glass that self-love holds before us, that this also prevents us from seeing our deformities, and marking the true features and complexion of the mind. Quick-sighted as we all are to the faults or foibles of others, we do not, or will not, with the same facility discern our own. Our passions are our apologists; they plead for our vices, and mislead our judgment. This may be a monition to us, to scrutinise with the strictest caution our own heart, to look well if there be any culpable inclination or passion lurking in it, that we may not be deceived by any flattering reports of our character made by self-partiality. To assist us in forming a Tight judgment of our conduct, and seeing it in a true light, the best method perhaps would be, to put ourselves as much as may be out of the question; to divest ourselves of all concern in it; and to suppose that we are passing judgment, not on ourselves, but on another person. (G. Carr, B.A.)

The besetting sin

I. THE BESETTING SIN IS A REALITY IN CHRISTIAN EXPERIENCE. Every character has its weak points, just as every fort and every line of battle.

II. THE BESETTING SIN HAS VARIOUS OUTWARD FORMS. Just as some diseases in the human system manifest themselves at one place in one person, and at another place in another person, so sinfulness in the moral system comes to the surface at different points in different people. To one person the besetting sin may be uncleanness of imagination; to another, irritability of temper. It not infrequently happens that several forms of the besetting sin afflict the same person. In some form or another we all have a besetting sin; and it greatly interferes with both our happiness and our usefulness.

III. THE BESETTING SIN CAN BE OVERCOME.

1. Learn what our weak points are.

2. Pray every day for special help at the weak points.

3. Guard these points with special care.

4. Cultivate holiness in general.

5. There is great hope for those who are struggling for the mastery over besetting sins. (The Preachers’ Monthly.)

A besetting sin dulls spiritual perception

David Rittenhouse, of Pennsylvania, was a great astronomer. He was skilful in measuring the sizes of planets and determining the position of the stars. But he found that, such was the distance of the stars, a silk thread stretched across the glass of his telescope would entirely cover a star; and thus a silk fibre appeared to be larger in diameter than a star. Our sun is said to be 886,000 miles in diameter, and yet, seen from a distant star, could be covered, hidden behind a thread when that thread was stretched across the telescope. Just so we have seen some who never could behold the heavenly world. They always complained of dulness of vision when they looked in the heavenly direction. You might direct their eyes to the Star of Bethlehem through the telescope of faith and holy confidence; but, alas! there is a secret thread, a silken fibre, which, holding them in subserviency to the world, in some way obscures the light; and Jesus, the Star of Hope, is eclipsed, and their hope darkened. A very small sin, a very little self-gratification, may hide the light. To some, Jesus, as Saviour, appears very far off. He shall be seen where the heart lets nothing intervene.

The danger of impediments:

At Sidler Tchiflik three men sprang on to the train just as it was starting, and clung to the carriage-doors. The guard saw them, but dared not push them off for fear of killing them, yet could not venture to stop the train on account of the delay this would have caused. He therefore beckoned to the men to creep slowly along the side of the carriages after him. It was a terrible walk, and made my blood run cold to see it. The poor men were wet, benumbed, and awkward. Each had a bundle on his shoulder--one on a stick, one on a gun, one on a sword. As they crept slowly along, hanging on for their lives, first one bundle, then another, dropped off, till at last, after an agony of suspense, they were safely landed in a cattle-truck, having lost the very little all that they possessed. (Lady Brassey.)

The injury of a besetting sin:

The old proverb hath it, “Here’s talk of the Turk and the Pope, but ‘tis my next neighbour that does me the most harm.” It is neither popery nor infidelity that we have half so much cause to dread as our own besetting sins. We want more Protestants against sin, more Dissenters from carnal maxims, and more Nonconformists to the world. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Besetting sins

A man’s besetting sin is the one that jumps with his inclinations. Does he love mirthfulness? Then he must be careful lest he runs into excessive levity and play the harlequin. He will be tempted to make jests of sacred things. A minister ought not to be a monk; but neither should he be a social comedian. Does a man love ease? Then he always interprets those providences in his own favour which allow him to shirk hard work and swing in his hammock. Does he love flattery and eclat? Then he is tempted to seek applause, and to imagine that he is serving God when he is only burning incense on the altar of self-worship. The worst enemy is the one which wears an honest disguise, Look out for selfishness. It is the “old Adam” lurking behind every hedge. It will always keep place with you if you give it the upper baud. Keep no league with it; for Christ will never abide in the same heart with that subtle and greedy tyrant. A Christian is never safe, never strong, never true to Christ, unless he is constantly “collaring” ever sinful and selfish passion, and forcing it into unconditional surrender. (T. L. Cuyler, D. D.)

The deadly character of secret sin:

Canon Wilberforce said that one day, while walking in the Isle of Skye, he saw a magnificent specimen of the golden eagle, soaring upward. He halted, and watched its flight. Soon he observed by its movements that something was wrong. Presently it began to fall, and soon lay dead at his feet. Eager to know the reason of its death, he hastily examined it, and found no trace of gunshot wound; but he found that it held in its talons a small weasel, which, in its flight, was drawn near its body, and had sucked the life blood from the eagle’s breast. The same end befalls him who clings to some secret sin; sooner or later it will sap his life blood, and he falls. (C. W. Bibb.)

One sin the soul’s ruin

There was but one crack in the lantern, and the wind has found it out and blown out the candle. How great a mischief one unguarded point of character may cause us! (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The race that is set before us

The race to heaven

I. OUR COMMENCING THIS RACE.

1. It is not any race, but a particular one. “The race set before us.”

2. The introduction to this race is by regeneration (John 3:2; John 3:7).

3. We must lay aside every hindrance that would impede our progress.

II. OUR PROGRESS IN THIS RACE.

1. We must keep the course.

2. We must keep on in the way.

3. We must go on patiently under all difficulties.

4. We must keep the prize in view.

5. We must persevere to the end.

III. OUR FINISHING THIS RACE.

1. The certainty of having the prize.

2. The prize will be a glorious and enduring one.

3. The prize will be a just one. “Crown of righteousness.”

4. The honour connected with the bestowment of this crown. (The Evangelical Preacher.)

I. RELIGION IN ITS ENCOURAGEMENTS.

The race

1. Those who have departed from us are existing. Death is not annihilation.

2. The dead are in a state of conscious activity. These men are not asleep, but observe.

3. They are not far from us, for we “are compassed about” by them.

4. They observe our line of life--are witnesses.

II. RELIGION IN ITS ACTIVITIES.

1. Religion requires self-denial.

2. Religion requires the conquest of sin.

3. Religion required personal effort.

4. Religion requires patience.

5. Religion requires thought and attention.

III. RELIGION IN ITS MODEL.

1. Our model is regarded as the inspirer of Christian life--“the author and finisher of our faith,”--the originator in us of the life of God, which life can never be brought into maturity unless He becomes, by His gracious presence in the heart, its finisher.

2. Paul then refers to the Saviour’s object in His life of toil--the object of His model life, “who for the joy,” etc.

3. Finally, the apostle refers to the many sufferings, mental and physical, connected with His model life. (E. Lewis, B. A.)

The Christian race

I. THE RACE is one of

1. Christian knowledge.

2. Christian experience.

3. Christian duties.

4. Christian sufferings. The phrase implies

II. THE DUTIES connected with it. Lay aside every weight--sin of every kind--but particularly

1. Attachment to the company with which formerly connected.

2. Love of the world, and inordinate attachment even to our lawful calling.

3. Improper fear of man; accommodation and compromise of the fear of God. And the besetting sin!

III. THE ENCOURAGEMENT afforded.

1. The cloud of witnesses. These are testifiers as well as spectators.

2. Jesus Himself. And He as an example also, “who for the ,joy,” &c. Can we be tempted or suffer as He did? And remember, we, too, shall sit down on His throne. (J. Summerfield, M. A.)

Stripping for the race

I. THE SPEED OF THE CHRISTIAN LIFE. “Let us run.” We must not sit still to be carried by the stream. We must not loiter and linger as children returning from a summer’s ramble. We must not even walk as men with measured step. The idea of a race is generally competition; here it is only concentration of purpose, singleness of aim, intensity. How earnest men are around us! Newton poring over his problems till the midnight wind sweeps over his pages the ashes of his long extinguished fire. Reynolds sitting, brush in hand, before his canvas for thirty-six hours together, summoning into life forms of beauty that seemed glad to come. Dryden composing in a single fortnight his ode for St. Cecilia’s Day. Buffon dragged from his beloved slumbers to his more beloved studies. And the beloved biographer, who records these traits, himself rising with the dawn to prepare for the demands of his charge. In a world like this, and with a theme like ours, we ought not to be languid, but devoted, eager, consumed with a holy love to God, and with a passion for the souls of men. Then should we make progress in the knowledge of the Word of God, and enter into the words of one of the greatest spiritual athletes that ever lived Philippians 3:14).

II. WE MUST RUN FREE OF WEIGHTS. There would be little difficulty in maintaining an ardent spirit if we were more faithful in dealing with the habits and indulgencies which cling around us and impede our steps. Thousands of Christians are like water-logged vessels. They cannot sink, but they are so saturated with inconsistencies, and worldliness, and permitted evil, that they can only be towed with difficulty into the celestial port. There is an old Dutch picture of a little child dropping a cherished toy from its bands; and, at first sight, its action seems unintelligible, until, at the corner of the picture, the eye is attracted to a white dove winging its flight towards the emptied outstretched hands. Similarly we are prepared to forego a good deal, when once we catch sight of the spiritual acquisitions which beckon to us. And this is the true way to reach consecration and surrender. Do not ever dwell on the giving-up side, but on the receiving side. Keep in mind the meaning of the old Hebrew word for consecration, to fill the hand. There will not be much trouble in getting men to empty their hands of wood, hay, and stubble, if they see that there is a chance of filling them with the treasures, which gleam from the faces or lives of others, or which call to them from the page of Scripture. The world pities us, because it sees only what we give up; but it would hold its sympathy if it could also see how much we receive--“good measure, pressed down, and running over given into our bosoms.”

III. WE MUST LAY ASIDE BESETTING SIN. “Let us lay aside the sin which doth so closely cling to us” (R.V.). We often refer to these words; but do we not misquote them in divorcing them from their context? We should read them as part of the great argument running through the previous chapter. That argument has been devoted to the theme of faith. And surely it is most natural to hold that the sin which so closely clings to us is nothing else than the sin of unbelief, which is the opposite pole to the faith so highly eulogised. If that be a correct exegesis, it sheds new light on unbelief. It is no longer an infirmity; it is a sin. Men sometimes carry about their doubts, as beggars a deformed or sickly child, to excite the sympathy of the benevolent. But surely there is a kind of unbelief which should not meet with sympathy, but rebuke. It is sin which needs to be repented, to be resisted, and to receive as sin the cleansing of Christ.

1. Let us remember that the course is set before us by our heavenly Father, who therefore knows all its roughnesses and straitnesses, and will make all grace abound toward us, sufficient for our need. To do His will is rest and heaven.

2. Let us look off unto Jesus. Away from past failure and success; away from human applause and blame; away from the gold pieces scattered on the path, and the flowers that line either side. Do not look now and again, but acquire the habit of looking always; so that it shall become natural to look up from every piece of daily work, from every room, however small, from every street, however crowded, to His calm face; just as the sojourner on the northern shores of Geneva’s lake is constantly prone to look up from any book or work on which the attention may have been engaged, to behold the splendour and glory of the noble range of snowcapped summits on the further shores. And if it seems hard to acquire this habitual attitude, trust the Holy Spirit to form it in your soul. Above all, remember that where you tread there your Lord trod once, combating your difficulties and sorrows, though without sin; and ere long you shall be where He is now. (F. B.Meyer, B. A.)

The race set before us:

“Go ahead” was only half of David Crockett’s motto--and not the most important half. “Be sure you are right” precedes. The faster the ship goes ahead, the greater the danger, if there is not a good watch on the bow and a strong hand on the wheel. To run well is of importance; to start right is of prime importance. “Let us run with patience the race that is set before us,” says the sacred writer. A great many men lose the prize by dropping out of the text altogether the clause which we have put in italics. Every man must find his own race before he begins to run. God has a work for every man that no other man can do quite as well; and he succeeds best who quickest finds what that work is, and sets himself to do it. Many a good writer has been spoiled to make an insolvent merchant; not a few good housekeepers to make execrable poets; now and then an execrable mechanic to make a poor preacher. A race has been set before me; and it is my duty to find out what that race is, and run it, and not waste life in regrets that I cannot run a different one, or life’s energies in unsuccessful attempts to do so.

Patient running

I remember once climbing a great Alpine peak. I was fagged and out of sorts, and the strain was considerable. I was not enjoying it, but I knew I should enjoy it at the top. I had not any spare energy to talk or look about, so I kept looking for a couple of hours at the heels of the guide, who was in front and above me. That is going with patience. It is the holding out till the next glimpse of light comes from above. It is the determination of the runner, when the afternoon sun is blinding his eyes, and the afternoon languor weighing upon him, that he wilt run on. (J. F. Ewing, M.A.)

Looking unto Jesus

Jesus the author and finisher of the Christian’s faith

I. “The author and finisher of faith” must be looked to as THE ONLY TEACHER OF RELIGIOUS DOCTRINES.

II. “The author and finisher of faith” must be looked to as THE PREACHER AND EXEMPLAR OF CHRISTIAN MORALITY.

III. “The author and finisher of faith” must be looked to as THE ALONE PROCURER OF SALVATION. (H. J. Stevenson, M. A.)

Looking to Jesus, the secret of running well our Christian race

I. THE PERSON” SET FORTH HERE IS JESUS He, whose name is the light and glory of Scripture; whose coming and work formed the subject of ancient type, and symbol, and prophecy.

1. We are led to consider Him in His Divine nature and character.

2. The person set forth in the text is to be considered in His most gracious undertaking on behalf of men.

II. THE HABIT COMMENDED--“Looking unto Jesus.” This word expresses the mental posture, which the apostle would have all Christians maintain in relation to Jesus, their Saviour-God. It is not a single, unrepeated act that he wishes here to enforce, but a holy habit of soul. As the gaze of the mariner, steering his vessel through perilous seas, is perpetually fixed upon the compass, so we, voyaging to eternity through the treacherous waters of time, must have eye and heart centred on Christ, as the sole director of our progress. The word expresses a continuous and sustained action of the inner man. But it does more. It not only means “ looking,” as the translation gives it, but looking off, or away. We are taught to look away from all else to “Jesus only?’ Let the counter attraction be what it may, its power is to be resisted: its spell is to be broken, and the full gaze of the soul is to concentrate itself on Immanuel alone, Now, in the direction of the apostle, as thus expounded, I think we are called to note particularly three suggested thoughts.

1. The entire sufficiency of Christ to meet all human requirements.

2. It is the sad tendency of man, notwithstanding, to turn to other dependencies.

3. This tendency must be corrected, in order to Christ’s becoming all that He would be to any.

III. THE END CONTEMPLATED--that we may run well our Christian race; run it free from entanglement; run it with purity; run it with patience; run it with perseverance. Oh! is there anything that can compare with these objects in the estimation of a believer? We may well ask, then, how the “ looking unto Jesus” will enable us to compass these objects; in other words, how it will secure that we shall run well our Christian race? And here the answer is threefold.

1. “Looking to Jesus” supplies the strongest motive to run well our Christian race; that is, love towards Himself. You know that fire and force are the effect of a supreme affection; how it makes light of difficulties, and changes leaden feet into feet of angel swiftness. Love lightens toil, and makes even waiting more than endurable.

2. “Looking to Jesus” furnishes all needful strength for running well our Christian race. This is the act on our part that appropriates it for our various occasions and exigencies; just as plants, by opening out their leaves, to them the organs of assimilation, imbibe the light and dew, and distribute sustenance through their entire structure, so we, by “ looking to Jesus,” receive those communications of a spiritual kind, upon which the life of our souls and the vigour of our Christian walk depend.

3. “Looking to Jesus “ brings before us the highest example of a successful runner in the Christian race. When you are in doubt, ask, “What, in such a case, would my Master have done?(C. M. Merry, B. A.)

Looking unto Jesus

I. WHY?

1. The best beings in the universe encourage it.

2. Our own needs demand it. We want a Mediator, Example,

Friend, such as He is.

3. The great God enjoins it.

II. How?

1. By the study of His biography.

2. By communion with Christly souls.

3. By friendship with Himself.

III. WHEN?

1. At the beginning of the Christian life.

2. In all the encouragements and discouragements of life.

3. At death. (U. R. Thomas.)

The rule of the race

I. First, then, we are to look to Jesus as THE AUTHOR OF FAITH. The apostle would have us view the Lord Jesus as the starter of the race. When a foot-race began, the men were drawn up in a line, and they had to wait for a signal. Those who were in the race had to look to the starter; for the runner who should get first by a false start would not win, because he did not run according to the rules of the race. No man is crowned unless he strives lawfully. The starter was in his place, and the men stood all waiting and looking. Our word at starting in the Christian life is, “Look unto Jesus.”

1. We have to look to Jesus, first, by trusting in that which He has wrought for us. It is described in these words: “Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the Cross, despising the shame.”

2. We also begin looking unto Jesus because of what He has wrought in us.

II. But now we must look to Jesus as THE FINISHER OF FAITH. As Jesus is at the commencement of the course, starting the runners, so He is at the end of the course, the rewarder of those who endure to the end. Those who would win in the great race must keep their eyes upon Him all along the course, even till they reach the winning-post.

1. You will be helped to look to Him when you remember that He is the finisher of your faith by what He has wrought for you; for the text saith,

“He endured the Cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” You also shall have heaven, for He has it; you shall sit upon the throne, for He sits there.

2. We are helped to run to the end, not only by what Jesus has done for us, but by what Jesus is doing in us.

III. Let us next consider our Lord Jesus as THE PATTERN OF OUR FAITH. Run, as Jesus ran, and look to Him as you run, that you may run like Him. How did our Lord pursue His course?

1. You will see this if you first note His motive: “Who for the joy that was set before Him.” The chief end of man is to glorify God; let it be my chief end, even as it was my Lord’s. Oh, that I might glorify Thee, my Creator, my Preserver, my Redeemer! To this end was I born, and for this end would I live in every action of my life. We cannot run the race set before us unless we feel thus.

2. Wherein are we to imitate Jesus?

IV. Lastly, our text sets before us Jesus as THE GOAL OF FAITH We are to run “looking unto Jesus” as the end that we should aim at. True faith neither goes away from Christ Jesus, nor takes a roundabout road to Jesus, nor so much as dreams of going beyond Jesus. Now, we are to run towards Him, looking unto Him. Looking to Jesus and running to Jesus will look well and run well together. The eyes outstrip the feet; but this also is well, for the feet will thus be made to move the faster. Look you that you may see more of Jesus. Let us run towards Jesus, that we may grow more like Him. It is one of the virtues of Jesus that He transforms into His own image those who look at Him. He photographs Himself upon all sensitive hearts. Run, that you may come nearer to Jesus. Seek after more near and dear fellowship with Him. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Looking unto Jesus

The word denotes the unfixing of the eye from other objects, and the fixing it upon Him; the turning away of your vision from other attractions, either without or within, and turning them to Jesus only. This is the true position for the soul; and according as we occupy this position, will be the growth of our peace, of our holiness, of our strength and zeal.

1. The eye thus fixed upon Him must, however, be no divided eye, partly fixed on others, partly on Him. Nothing above or beneath must divide your eye, or withdraw Him from your gaze.

2. Again, it must be no wandering eye, as if it might roam over every object in the universe, provided only He were among the number. He must be the great central fascination, on which the eye fixes itself, and to which it ever reverts if for a moment it is withdrawn. There is no other object worthy of our gaze, no other fitted to fill our souls.

3. Again, it must be no careless or unwilling eye. A forced gaze there cannot be; a careless gaze on an object so Divinely glorious, so infinitely attractive, seems altogether incredible when you consider to whom you are looking. On Him all heaven is gazing, and can you turn away? On Him the Father is looking and saying, “Let thine eye rest where Mine is resting,” and can you turn away, as if not satisfied with that which satisfies the Infinite Father?

I. IN LOOKING, WHAT DO WE SEE? We see one who is the brightness of the Father’s glory, and the express image of His person, the everlasting Son of the Father, yet, at the same time, bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh--our kinsman, our brother. We see in Him God--God over all, yet an infant of days: God, yet a sorrowing man: God, yet a crucified criminal: God, yet a dying, buried man. The perfection of Godhead is in Him, yet the reality of manhood too. The infinite heart of God, yet the finite heart of man. Divine love, yet also human love. Condescending love as God, sympathising love as man. Paternal love as God, fraternal love as man. All excellency, all glory, all beauty, all perfection to be found in Him--unsearchable riches--for in Him “it hath p]eased the Father that all fulness should dwell.” But look a little deeper and what do you see? You see in this God-man, the Sin-bearer, “the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.” You see in Him one clothed and furnished thus, as I have described Him, but clothed and furnished for the very purpose of being a fitting and sufficient sacrifice; the propitiation for our sins. We see in Him one who can take our very place, one who can stand where we should have stood before God, one who can bear what we should have borne, one who can endure what we should have endured.

II. IN LOOKING, HOW ARE WE AFFECTED? These things are not fitted merely to call up wonder; they go down into the very depths of our spiritual being, producing there the mightiest results, and effecting the most wondrous revelations and transformations.

1. In looking, the first thing that strikes us is the difference and contrast between our character and His. The first glimpse we get of Him makes us feel the extent of our sinfulness, our unlikeness to Him; and there is nothing so effectual for giving a sense of sin, or for deepening a sense of sin as this looking to the Holy One.

2. But then, in looking, a second thing that startles us is the full provision that is made in Him for meeting and for removing all these imperfections in us; so that the more that, in looking, we are troubled at the sight of our own hideous sinfulness, the more are our consciences pacified by the view which we get of His sin-bearing work as the “ Lamb without blemish and without spot”--“the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world.”

III. IN LOOKING, WHAT DO WE LEARN? We see in Jesus a model, and we begin to imitate Him. We see in Him the doer of the Father’s will, and we learn to do that will as He did it. We see in Him a willing sufferer for others, and we learn willingly to suffer. We see in Him a man that pleased not Himself, and we learn not to please ourselves. We see in Him a pattern of all meekness, and submissiveness, and gentleness, and kindness, and we learn from Him to be meek, and lowly, and gentle, and submissive, and kind, and humble--and thus it is that in looking to Him we are changed into His image from “glory to glory even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” Thus it is that in looking away from other objects we are prevented from imbibing the evil influences to which they have too long subjected us; and in looking to Him we are brought under the efficacious power of higher, purer, nobler, diviner influences. But the great feature in which the apostle presents Christ to us is His faith. He showed us how to believe, and believe even on this earth where there is everything to tempt our faith and to cherish unbelief. He showed us how to live by faith upon the Father, even in a world like this, that has cast off the Father. Let us look to Him then and learn of Him, let us look to His footsteps and walk in them, following where He has led the way, and planting our feet where we find that His have been planted before us. (H. Boner, D. D.)

Looking unto Jesus:

Here is a young man carrying something through a crowded Eastern market-place, or bazaar. It is a vessel with water in it. Observe how earnest and intent his face is, and how he never allows his eye to wander for a moment to what is going on round him I His teacher has told him to carry the vessel full of water--full to the very brim, through the bazaar, and to bring it back without having spilled a drop. And now you see the young man returning, pleased and triumphant, because he has succeeded in obeying the command. Not a single drop has been lost. The old teacher praises him, and then asks him what he saw as he was passing through the bazaar. “Saw! “ cries the young man, “why, I saw nothing.” “How can that be?” replies the teacher, “for I know that the very time when you were in the bazaar the Sultan with some of his chief attendants went by.” “Well, that may be,” said the young man; “but how could I see anything, or anybody, when I had my eyes fixed upon the water the whole time, and could think of nothing but how to carry it without spilling, as you told me to do?” “Ah!” said the teacher, “now you can understand how we may be so entirely occupied with some work that God has given us to do, as to be quite unconscious of the sinful pleasures of the world, which strive to attract our attention as we are passing through them.”

I. We regard the Lord Jesus AS OUR ONLY HOPE OF SALVATION. If we were standing on a wreck as it was settling down in the ocean, and a lifeboat were to come up alongside, what should we do? We should leave the wreck altogether--leave it behind us, “look away” from it, and jump into the lifeboat. Jesus Christ, then, is our only hope of salvation.

II. HE IS OUR ONLY EXAMPLE TO IMITATE. I have read somewhere of a traveller, who with his guide was crossing a high mountain in Switzerland. After journeying many miles, they came at last to a very dangerous pass, where just a little shelf of rock, and that partly worn away in places by the rain, ran round the face of a precipitous cliff, and was the only pathway by which they could possibly ascend to the top. Try to imagine their situation! Above them rose a steep rock, up the face of which no human being could climb, and below them was a precipice which went down straight, without a break, for nearly a thousand feet. And the traveller’s heart--though he was a courageous man--began to beat fast, and his head began to swim, until he was in danger of falling over and being killed. The guide seeing this, called out (I should tell you that the guide was walking in front), “Do not look up or down, or you are a lost man. Look away from everything at me. Keep your eyes fixed on me, and where I set my foot, there do you place yours.” The traveller obeyed this command; the dizziness and the fear went away; and both the men crossed safely over the terrible pass. This story has always reminded me of “ looking away” unto Jesus, and of His leaving us an example that we should follow His steps.

III. HE IS THE ONLY BESTOWER OF ALL THE BLESSINGS WHICH WE ENJOY. Every good gift, and every perfect gift comes to us through Him. He is the channel which connects us with God. If we think a good thought, or do a good deed, it is owing to Christ. Shall we run negligently, as if we did not care much about it? No; we will run earnestly. Shall we give up when we have run part of the way? No; for it is “ he that endureth to the end that shall be saved,” and it were better never to have begun at all, than to begin and then leave off. Shall we say, “How hard, how tiresome it is to run this Christian race?” No; for the Lord Jesus Christ is with us all the time, strengthening, encouraging, upholding us. (G. Calthrop, M. A.)

Looking unto Jesus

I. THE SPIRITUAL POSTURE IN WHICH CHRISTIANS ARE REQUIRED TO PLACE THEMSELVES.

1. “Looking unto Jesus,” in recognition of the relation of Jesus to us. As redeemed men this Jesus is all in all to us. He is called by various names: the last Adam, the Amen, the Alpha, the Omega, the Advocate, the Angel, our Apostle, Bread of Life, our Captain, our Chief Shepherd, the Chief Corner Stone, the Counsellor, the Day Spring, the Witness, the Great High Priest, the Head, the King, the Lamb, our Leader, our Life, our Light, the Star, the Morning Star, the Rock, the True Vine, the Way, the Word of God.

2. “Looking unto Jesus,” for direction from Jesus. He is our Master, and He appoints our services. He is our Teacher, He gives us our lessons. He is our Lord, He confers upon us all true honour and all real reward. He is our elder Brother; and acting the part of a Father. He provides for us, and He has charge of us.

3. “Looking unto Jesus” for the varied and constant help which He affords. Every name by which He is called represents some service which He is prepared to render to us, or is actually rendering us, or some particular aspect of some service. In truth, Christ is to you what you require Him to be, if you will only let Him be what you need Him to be.

4. “Looking unto Jesus,” in confident expectation of the fulfilment of all His promises. Looking, therefore, as an expectant of blessings. Well, this involves knowledge of His power and trust in it. Knowledge, too, of His veracity, and of His fidelity, and a corresponding confidence.

5. “Looking unto Jesus” for recognition and for sanction. Why is it that so many Christians are so miserable, so out of temper, so weak? You find the reason here: they are always looking for recognition and sanction from men, from the Church of God, from their fellow disciples, and sometimes where they never ought to look for it, from the men of this world. Do you see how this is forbidden by the text? You are not to live looking to the disciples, you are not to live looking to the Church for recognition and for sanction, but turning your eyes upwards you are to be in a position to say with Peter, “Lord, Thou knowest all things, Thou knowest that I love Thee.” The mere professor does not think of thus “looking unto Jesus”; he keeps looking entirely at himself. The hypocrite, too, dare not look unto Jesus--he dare not. He has impudence enough, but he dare not look unto Jesus. He keeps his eye away from the eye of the Master. The backslider, too, he temporarily has ceased to look upon Jesus.

6. “Looking unto Jesus,” moreover, as an object of love. “Whom having not seen, ye love.”

II. THE REASON FOR IT. “Jesus is the author and finisher of faith.” Every wise man has a reason for his conduct, and every good man a good reason. A Christian should be the most intelligent, and rational of his class. If he be “looking unto Jesus,” he ought to know the reason why. Why look unto Jesus? Why not to himself? Why not to the cloud of witnesses? Why not to his fellows in the race? Why look unto Jesus? The apostle gives the answer. “Jesus is the author and finisher of faith.”

1. In the first place Jesus occupies a singular position as it respects faith. He is “the author, or prince of faith,” being Himself the highest example of faith. Does it occur to you that when Christ bids you believe, He bids you do what He did? He was a believer. His human nature had in it the strongest possible faith, and on this account you may call Jesus “ the prince of faith.” But He is “the prince of faith” in another sense.

2. We speak now of Christ as a man (not ignoring, however, His Divine nature), and we say of Him, that He is “the author or prince of faith,” because He is the first man who on this earth has maintained faith. The first Adam lost faith in God; and no man could set Adam the first up as a prince; but the second Adam maintained faith even in the severest trials, and, therefore, you may call Jesus “ the prince of faith.”

3. Again, He is “the prince of faith” as leading us into faith. He goes before us in the path of faith, and as leading us into faith, and as guiding us into this path, He is “the author,” or the “prince of faith.” Then, as Himself continuing in faith to the end, He is “the finisher.” And as maintaining and consummating our faith He is also “the finisher.” Is our race faith? God commands that faith to Himself. He says, believe on Me. Is our race faith? God draws that faith more and more strongly to Himself. He can keep it, and He alone can maintain it. Therefore in running this race of faith, it is our manifest duty to run, “looking unto Jesus” “the prince,” mark, in all these respects, “of faith.” (S. Martin.)

Looking unto Jesus

I. WHY SHOULD WE LOOK TO JESUS?

1. Because He is the supremest object of human interest. When we remember everything that goes to make up what we may call “the things of Christ,” the preparation for His coming, and all that centred in Him, the various movements of the preceding generations, the symptomatic changes alike in the political and religious condition of men; then His own history, when He went about living His life, speaking His words, doing His work; and then what He has since been, the place He has taken in human regard, the influence He has exercised upon human life--what a wondrous series of interesting objects we meet with!

2. Because we find in Him the answer to the deepest needs of our souls.

3. Because He is the dearest object of human love.

II. WHERE SHALL WE SEE JESUS?

1. Look at Him in the scenes of His earthly career.

2. Look at Him in the place of His atoning death.

3. Look at Him on the throne of His triumphant mediation.

III. WHEN SHALL WE LOOK TO JESUS?

1. In the time of your temptation.

2. In the moment of penitence. By thy side He stands with an arm extended, and will take thee back to His bosom and His love.

3. In the hour of need. That is every hour, for every hour am I needy, and always do I require that Saviour to be near. (L. D. Bevan.)

Looking unto Jesus:

The expression before us is one of the pithy golden sayings which stand out here and there on the face of the New Testament, and demand special attention. It is like “to me to live is Christ,” “Christ is all and in all,” “Christ who is our life,” “He is our peace,” “I live by the faith of the Son of God.” To each and all of these sayings one common remark applies. They contain far more than a careless eye can see on the surface. But the grand question which rises out of the text is this: What is that we are to look at in Jesus?

I. First and foremost, if we would look rightly to Jesus, we must look daily at His DEATH, as the only source of inward peace. We all need peace. Now there is only one source of peace revealed in Scripture, and that is the sacrifice of the death of Christ, and the atonement which He has made for sin by that vicarious death on the Cross. To obtain a portion in that great peace, we have only to look by faith to Jesus, as our substitute and Redeemer.

II. In the second place, if we would look rightly to Jesus, we must look daily to His LIFE OF INTERCESSION, in heaven, as our principal provision of strength and help. While we are fighting Amalek in the valley below, one greater than Moses is holding up His hands for us in heaven, and through His intercession we shall prevail.

III. In the third place, if we would look rightly to Jesus, we must look at His EXAMPLE as our chief standard of holy living. We must all feel, I suspect, and often feel, how hard it is to regulate our daily lives by mere rules and regulations. But surely it would cut many a knot and solve many a problem if we could cultivate the habit of studying the daily behaviour of our Lord as recorded in the four Gospels, and striving to shape our own behaviour by its pattern. We may well be humbled when we think how unlike the best of us are to our example, and what poor blurred copies of His character we show to mankind. Like careless children at school we are content to copy those around us with all their faults, and do not look constantly at the only faultless copy, the One perfect man in whom even Satan could find nothing. But one thing at any rate we must all admit. If Christians during the last eighteen centuries had been more like Christ, the Church would certainly have been far more beautiful, and probably have done far more good to the world.

IV. Fourthly, and lastly, if we would look to Jesus rightly, we must look forward to His SECOND ADVENT, AS THE TRUEST FOUNTAIN OF HOPE AND CONSOLATION. That the early Christians were always looking forward to a second coming of their risen Master, is a fact beyond all controversy. In all their trials and persecutions, under Roman Emperors and heathen rulers, they cheered one another with the thought that their own King would soon come again, and plead their cause. It ought to be the consolation of Christians in these latter days as much as it was in primitive times. (Bishop Ryle.)

A life-motto:

The great object on which we are to fix our gaze, all through life is--Jesus. It is with Him, above all else, that we must have to do.

1. “Looking unto Jesus,” we are to trust Him as our Saviour. The first thing we want is a Saviour. I once saw a ship at sea, off the east coast of Scotland, in a storm. Her sails were torn to tatters, her masts were broken, her anchor was dragging. It needed no signal of distress, for it was within sight of the shore. We could hardly keep our feet out of doors. The wind blew a hurricane and the rain pelted. Those of us who could, got into the shelter of the pier, and, glass in hand, watched the movements of the hard-pressed sloop. The lifeboat was launched and pushed through the surf, and after being carried past the vessel once and again, at length got alongside of those who so much needed help. That lifeboat came to them as a saviour. And how were they saved? By trusting it. But perhaps some of you say, “What has all this to do with ‘looking unto Jesus’? The text is about ‘looking,’ not trusting.” Well, but “looking” means trusting. A poor but respectable widow once called on me in great distress. She had fallen behind with her rent, and her landlord had threatened to sell every article of furniture she had, and to turn her and her children to the street. I told her I would see to the matter, and that she might look to me for her rent. She went joyfully home, and I can suppose her children to have said to her, “Mother, how are you looking so happy? Have you got the money?” “No,” she answers, “but it is all right. The minister said I might look to him for the rent, and I know it is as sure as if I had the money in my hand.” That just means--she trusted me for it. The looking and the trusting were one and the same thing. Now, the Lord Jesus bids you look to Him--away from all else--away from your own doing or deserving- away from the godliest and best friends you have. He says, “None of them can save you.” He says, “Look unto Me and be saved: for I am God.”

2. “Looking unto Jesus”--we are to copy Him as our pattern. Now in the chapter before that from which our text is taken (chap. 11.), you have a wonderful list of worthies. It is just like a portrait-gallery, containing the likenesses of some of the best men the world ever saw. And as you read the descriptions you might ask, “May we take these as our pattern?” Well, so far, and yet only so far. They were not perfect patterns, and so are not safe to be followed in everything. And so the writer points away from them all, and as it were, says, “Do not stop at these. Do not be content to copy these. I can give you better than any of them all--a higher, safer, surer guide.” You cannot keep too close to Him. You cannot copy Him too exactly. In the smallest things as in the greatest, seek to be what He was, to do what He did, to follow in His footsteps.

3. “Looking unto Jesus “-we are to lean upon Him as our strength. Perhaps you say, “It must be very difficult to be what Christ was--to do what Christ did. He was so good and I am so evil: He was so strong and I am so weak: He was so bold and I am so cowardly. Indeed, it seems impossible. I do not see how it could ever be.” But if He were to give you His strength, it would not be so difficult, would it? Sometimes when I have been coming home late at night, after a long day’s work, I have felt very tired, and the uphill parts of the road seemed very long and very steep. But a friend came alongside, and when I put my arm into his, and had his support and his company, the tiredness left me, and I could have walked half a dozen of miles, and sometimes did walk backwards and forwards for a good half hour. His arm and his company were strength to me. That is what Jesus does. He says, “Lean on Me! Lean hard!” He, as it were, lets you put your arm into His. He lets you draw upon His strength. (J. H. Wilson, D. D.)

Looking to Jesus

I. UNDER WHAT ASPECTS ARE WE TO LOOK TO JESUS?

1. Saviour.

2. Master.

3. Example.

II. IN WHAT SCENES ARE WE TO LOOK TO JESUS?

1. Common duty.

2. Times of temptation.

3. Difficulties.

4. Means of grace.

III. WHAT SORT OF LOOKS THEY SHOULD BE?

1. Trustful.

2. Obedient.

3. Loving. (The Weekly Pulpit.)

Advantages obtained by looking unto Jesus

1. The first of these is peace; peace with God, and peace in the conscience. True peace comes from God the Father, through the blood of Jesus; and can only be enjoyed by looking unto Him.

2. Humiliation is another advantage derived from looking to Jesus. The heart of man is naturally proud; and will never be effectually humbled, but by a believing contemplation of the greatest example of humility that ever appeared in the world. That humiliation, especially, which becomes us as rebellious creatures, will be best promoted by looking at a suffering Saviour, bending under the load of our guilt in the garden and on the Cross. Who can make a mock at sin, that beholds the awful severity of God in punishing it in the person of His innocent Son, our Surety? Who can be proud, when he sees the Lord of all, destitute of a place where to lay His head, and enduring poverty and shame for our sakes?

3. This also affords the best lesson of patience; and for this purpose particularly, we are exhorted, in the text, to look to Jesus; for, it is added, He “endured the Cross, despising the shame.” If we would be Christians indeed, we must “arm ourselves with the same mind” (1 Peter 4:1); and, according to His direction, deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him (Matthew 16:24).

4. Love is the fulfilling of the law, and the most powerful principle of gospel holiness. But how shall this be obtained? We answer, By looking unto Jesus. “We love Him, because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). The love of our brother is closely connected with the love of God; the former can never exist without the latter, and always accompanies it. Looking to Jesus, the Friend of sinners, who came to seek and to save the lost, who went about doing good, is the most effectual means of curing the selfishness of our hearts, of softening the asperity of our tempers, and of exciting compassion and benevolence in our souls, towards all our fellow-men.

5. Looking to Jesus is the best expedient to destroy our inordinate regard to this present world. Christ was dead to it, and separate from it; and He says to His followers, “Ye are not of the world, even as I am not of the world” (John 17:16). A glance of His glory, and a sense of interest in His favour, will make us indifferent alike to its smiles and its frowns; and all the glittering objects that men pursue with such avidity, will appear as unworthy of our affections as the painted toys of children.

6. There is one more advantage to be expected from looking to Jesus; an advantage of such magnitude, that we may challenge the universe to equal it, and that is, ability to meet death with calmness and joy. Here is a triumph peculiar to the gospel; a triumph far superior to those of kings and conquerors; a triumph over the king of terrors. Looking to Jesus, who has borne the whole of the punishment due to our sins, we are no longer to consider it as penal; this is the sting of death, which He has extracted (2 Timothy 1:10). (G. Barrier.)

The necessity of looking to Christ:

The reason why the men of the world think so little of Christ is, they do not look at Him. Their backs being turned to the sun, they can see only their own shadows, and are, therefore, wholly taken up with themselves. While the true disciple, looking only upward, sees nothing but his Saviour, and learns to forget himself. (E. Payson.)

The inspiration of a good leader:

News had come from the left that Winter’s Brigade near the river was giving way. Stonewall Jackson rode down to see what it meant. As he passed on the brink of the ravine his eye caught the scene, and reining up in a moment, be said, “Colonel, you seem to have trouble down there.” Then he dashed on. He found that his old brigade had yielded slightly to overwhelming pressure. Galloping up, he was received with a cheer, and calling out at the top of his voice, “The Stonewall Brigade never retreats: follow me! “led them back to their original line. (H. O. Mackey.)

Jesus and faith:

“Is your faith strong?” a Christian man was asked a few days before his death. “No, but my Jesus is,” was his reply.

Deliverance by looking to Jesus

A lady had a dream, in which she fancied herself at the bottom of a deep pit. She looked round to see if there were any way of getting out; but in vain. Presently, looking upward, she saw in that part of the heavens immediately above the mouth of the pit a beautiful bright star. Steadily gazing at it, she felt herself to be gradually lifted upward. She looked down to ascertain how it was, and immediately found herself at the bottom of the pit. Again her eye caught sight of the star, and again she felt herself ascending. She had reached a considerable height. Still desirous of an explanation of so strange a phenomenon, she turned her eye downward, and fell to the bottom with fearful violence. On recovering from the effect of the shock, she bethought herself as to the meaning of it all, and once again turned her eye to the star, still shining so brightly above, and yet once again felt herself borne upward. Steadily did she keep her eye upon its light, till, at length, she found herself out of the horrible pit, and her feet safely planted on the solid ground above. It taught her the lesson, that, in the hour of danger and trouble, deliverance is to be found, and found only, by looking unto Jesus. (T. Guthrie.)

Look to Christ rather that to experiences

“Have you got it?” is a question often asked now. I remember being asked this, and I could not help replying, “I have got Him, and with Him all the its.” God does not give us Christ piecemeal, but wholly. We have a whole Christ, or no Christ. Now, while God does not give us a single blessing apart from Christ, yet in and with Him we have all spiritual blessings. As a matter of fact that is true to every believer, but as matter of experience it is not always so. “I have lost my peace,” groaned a saint one day. We replied, “Have you lost your Saviour?” “Oh, no!” “Well, then, He is our peace.” “I forgot that.” Just so, lose sight of Christ, and away go your feelings; and the way not to get your feelings back is to look for them, the way to get them is not to look for them, but to look to Him. Remember there is in Christ for you a fulness of acceptance, therefore do not doubt Him; there is fulness of peace, therefore trust Him; there is fulness of life, therefore abide in Him; there is fulness of blessing, therefore delight in Him; there is fulness of power, therefore wait upon Him; there is ful-ness of grace, therefore receive from Him; there is fulness of love, therefore be taken up with Him; there is fulness of teaching, therefore learn of Him; there is fulness of joy, therefore rejoice in Him; there is fulness of fulness in Him, therefore be full in Him; there is fulness of riches, therefore count upon Him; there is fulness of strength, therefore lean upon Him; there is fulness of light, therefore walk with Him; and there is fulness of energy, therefore be subject to Him. (T. E. Marsh.)

Looking to Jesus:

The painter who undertakes to copy some masterpiece of art, sits down before it, sketches the outline upon his own canvas, reproduces the colouring of the model, adds item by item to his picture, constantly looking upon the original, noting its qualities and the deficiencies of his work, till, by scrupulous care and untiring endeavour, he has produced a facsimile of the original. The Christian’s work is kindred. He has a better model, even Christ; but a harder task, for his canvas is treacherous and his work is life long.

Looking unto Jesus

Two boys were playing in the snow one day, when one said to the other, “Let us see who can make the straightest path in the snow.” His companion readily accepted the proposition, and they started. One boy fixed his eyes on a tree, and walked along without taking them off the object selected. The other boy set his eyes on the tree also, and, when he had gone a short distance, he turned, and looked back to see how true his course was. He went a little distance farther, and again turned to look over his steps. When they arrived at their stopping place, each halted and looked back. One path was true as an arrow, while the other ran in a zigzag course. “How did you get your path so true?” asked the boy who had made the crooked steps. “Why,” said the other boy, “I just set my eyes on the tree, and kept them there until I got to the end; while you stopped and looked back, and wandered out of your course.” Just so is the Christian life. If we fix the eyes of our hope, our trust, and our faith upon Jesus Christ, and keep them continually fastened thereon, we will at last land at the desired haven, with flowers of immortal victory at our feet. (C. W.Bibb.)

Jesus the only sight for the dying

The scene opens in a dark and silent chamber. Doctor Franklin is lying on his deathbed. For weeks and weeks he has been prostrate with disease. That active mind, which so long had been occupied with things of earth, was busied now with higher and nobler contemplations. He bids the nurse go down and bring a picture which he named, and fasten it on the wall opposite his bed, that he might look upon it when he pleased. And what think you that picture was? Some ancient historic heirloom, which he dearly prized? Some scene of stirring interest, in which he, the great philosopher of his age, had borne a conspicuous part? No! It was a picture of our blessed Saviour on the Cross; and Doctor Franklin, whom many, in these evil days, have desired to make an infidel outright, died while gazing upon it with wistful eyes, his whole countenance lighted up with a sweet and placid smile. Poor and pitiable are the hopes of the moralist or the philosopher who does not look to Christ Jesus as his Redeemer.

The Author and Finisher of our faith

The Commander of the faithful:

Consider the remarkable aspects and relationships in reference to our faith in which Christ is here set forth.

I. FIRST WE HAVE HIM AS LEADER AND COMMANDER OF THE GREAT ARMY OF THE FAITHFUL, JESUS, THE AUTHOR OF “OUR FAITH.” Christ is here represented, not so much as one who begins faith in men’s hearts, but as the Leader of all the long procession of those who live by faith. True, the heroes whose names are enrolled in the glorious catalogue of the preceding chapter were before Him in time. But the commander may march in the centre, as well as in the van, and even in order of time; He is the Beginner or Leader, inasmuch as He is the first who ever lived a perfect life of faith. We do not give sufficient prominence in our thoughts of Christ’s earthly life, to this aspect of it--that it was one of faith. He is our pattern in this as in all that belongs to humanity. His life was a life of faith, whose breath was prayer. For faith is dependence upon God, and surely never did human being so utterly hang upon the Father, nor submit himself so absolutely to be moulded and determined by Him, nor yield his will up so completely to that will. Faith is communion, and surely never did a spirit dwell so unbrokenly, in such deep and constant realisation of a Divine presence and a Divine sustaining, as did that Christ who could say “the Father hath not left Me alone, for I do always the things that please Him.” Faith is the vivid realisation of the unseen; and surely never was there a life lived amidst the shows and illusions of time which so manifestly and transparently was all passed in the vivid consciousness of that unseen world, as was the life of that Son of Man, who, in the midst of all earth’s engagements, could call Himself “ the Son of Man which is in heaven.” Faith is a life of assured confidence of an unseen hope, and surely never was there a life which was so entirely dominated by that unseen hope as His life, who, “For the joy that was set,” &c.

II. THERE IS ADDED A VERY SIGNIFICANT EXPRESSION, WHICH LEADS US TO CONSIDER CHRIST NEXT AS BEING SET FORTH HERE AS THE “FINISHER,” OR PERFECTER, “OF FAITH.” It would be a very poor affair if all we had to say to men was: “There is a beautiful example; follow it! “ Copybooks are all very well, but you want something more than copybooks, A so-called Christianity that has nothing more to say about Jesus Christ than that He is the perfect example of all human excellences, and of faith too, is not the one for a poor man that has found out the plague of his own heart, and the weakness of his own will. He wants something that will come a great deal closer to him than that. And so my text tells us that Jesus is not only “the Leader of faith,” but the “Perfecter” of it too. He will set you the pattern, and then, if you will let Him, He will come into your hearts, and make you able to copy the pattern. He will perfect faith by the implanting in your hearts of His own spirit and His own life. He will lead our faith to sovereign power in our lives, if we will only let Him do it, by another way, too--by the path of discipline and of sorrow; drawing away our hearts from earthly things and fixing them upon Himself; making the world dark that the sky above may be brighter, and revealing Himself to our loneliness as the all-sufficient companion. So He perfects our faith. And He will do it in another way too, by the rewards and blessings which He will give to the imperfect and tentative exercise of our confidence, over-answering our petitions, and flooding us with more than we expected when we tremulously tried to trust on Him; and so inducing us to be bolder in our confidence, and to venture further afield. Thus, He draws us further out into the great sea of His love. And not only so, but in another aspect that dear Lord is the Perfecter of our faith, inasmuch as He gives to our faith at the last that which is its aim and end. A thing is perfected when it either reaches its highest degree, or when it attains its object. And so Christ is the Perfecter of our faith, not only in the sense that He raises and educates it up to its loftiest form, but also that He bestows upon it at the last that which is, as Peter says, its “end,” or perfecting, even the salvation of our souls. And in this aspect we may almost take the word “Perfecter” here to be equivalent to that of the other idea of rewarder. Our faith is perfected when the unseen things are unveiled, when the communion with God is complete, when we shall see Christ as He is, and clasp Him in the close embrace of heaven, and when the crown of life is bestowed which He has promised to them that love Him.

III. THAT LEADS ME TO SAY ONE LAST WORD ABOUT THAT “LOOKING TO JESUS” WHICH IS THE INDISPENSABLE CONDITION OF “RUNNING THE RACE THAT IS SET BEFORE US.” It must be a believing look. It must be a loving look. The occupation of heart and mind with Jesus Christ is the secret of practical Christianity. It is an education to love Him and live with Him. Transformation comes by beholding. The eye that looks upon the light has an image of the light formed upon its ball, and the man that looks to Christ gets like Christ, and “beauty born of” that gaze “shall pass into his face.” Look to Him as the sustainer of your faith. In your feebleness, when life is low, when hope is almost dead, when temptations are tyrannous and strong, think of Him, and think in trust. Look to Him as your rewarder, and be of good cheer, and let the prospect of that great crown stimulate and sustain and lift you above the ills and the sorrows of life. And last of all, there is an untranslated preposition in one of the words of my text to which, perhaps, it is not straining too much to give emphasis. The full rendering of the expression “looking” is looking away. That points to the need of looking off from something else, that we may look up to Him. It always takes a resolute effort fixedly to contemplate, and to bring heart and mind really into contact with unseen things and unseen persons. And it takes a very strenuous effort to bring the unseen Christ before the mind habitually, and so as to produce effects in the life. You cannot see the stars when you are walking down a town street, and the gas-lamps are lit. All those violet depths and calm abysses and blazing worlds are concealed from you by the glare at your side--sulphurous and stinking. So, my brother, if you want to see into the depths and the heights, to see the great white throne and the Christ on it who helps you to fight, you have to go out unto Him beyond the camp, and leave all its dazzling lights behind you. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

For the joy that was set before Him

Christ’s joy in living

I want to speak to you of the joyfulness of Christ Jesus, and of the genius of Christianity as resulting from this fact; and I speak, being conscious of the great misconception which has flowed, for at least a thousand years, down through the Church, and which has clouded the public sentiment of the Christian community to this hour--namely, that Christ was a sufferer through life, and that sorrow is the distinguishing characteristic of the Saviour’s experience; and that although there are gleams of joy in the Christian life, all who enter upon it must enter upon it with a distinct understanding that its characteristic element is sorrowfulness, or cross-bearing. Now, I aver that it happens to no individual in his lifetime to experience so much joy as was compressed into the life of Jesus Christ; and a very slight examination of His history would make it incontrovertible. You will bear in mind that He was born a Hebrew peasant, but that He was of a lineage very noble. In His veins ran the best blood of the Jewish nation. He was a favourite from the beginning; for blood told then in the estimation of men as much as it has ever done. You will observe that Christ had the ordinary experience which men have, of being a child, and of being loved by His father and mother and His brothers and sisters. He went through all the experiences of babyhood, of early boyhood, of youth, and came into full-orbed manhood without any moral disturbance of which we are aware--without any convulsion that threw Him out of the ordinary experience of a pleasant household, and entered upon His public ministration when He was about twenty-seven years old, dying at about thirty. Now, you will observe that when Christ entered upon His ministry the first step He took in it was toward social joy; for after the temptation in the wilderness He went north and joined His parents, and in Cana of Galilee attended a wedding. The first miracle that He ever performed was to help carry on a three-days’ social entertainment. That does not look much like His being a Man of Sorrows. John, His cousin, came neither eating nor drinking. He disdained amenities. He threw himself like a judgment-bolt into the face of rulers. He cut right and left, without mercy, saying “Peace to the perfect, and woe to the imperfect.” That was his career. Christ began immediately after him. Instead of dwelling in the wilderness, He went into populous cities. Instead of going away from all social intercourse, He participated in the highest festivity known to the ordinary life of a Jew--namely, a wedding service; and afterwards He lived in such social habits that the charge against Him was that He made Himself common with common folks, and that He was a glutton and a wine-bibber, and a friend of publicans and sinners. No such allegation as that could be made against an ascetic. But setting aside all this, which lies upon the very surface of the text, look at the career of the Saviour in another point of view. So soon as He entered upon His course as a public minister, He showed great aptness in teaching. Concomitant with this experience was another--that which was connected with the performance of His miracles of mercy. Now, is there any joy greater than that which is experienced by one person when he helps another person? He was not a stone man; He was a living soul, as full of sensibility and fire as the heart of God. Consider that He did these things every morning, every noon, and every evening. Consider that there were so many such cases that they could not be registered by name. And do you tell me that in the blessed work of teaching and mercy which He was carrying on, Jesus was not a joyful man? Why, such an idea is false to nature, as it is false to grace. But we have a more decided case yet. We perceive that He was of a nature such that He drew to Him good-livers. He did not disdain luxury: He partook of it. He did not disdain high society: He went into it, just as readily and familiarly as to the peasant s cottage, or to the abode of the poor and sick. He was a man among men; and if He looked up His look was radiant, while i[ He looked down His look was light-bearing. He could not touch any side of human nature that His soul did not go out in sympathy with it. Now the attractiveness of the Saviour was Such that these men wanted Him, and called for Him. But no man who spreads a good table, and invites folks to dine with him, goes hunting for misanthropes. But that the rich men of His day did want Christ there is irrefutable evidence to prove. This shows that His bearing was sweet and attractive. And wherever He went where people were, He shed joy and happiness upon them. You will now ask, “What about the passion? What about the forty days?” Those are the very days over which the text goes. I think the joy was an awful joy; but I believe that Jesus Christ was never so joyful as during the mighty mystery of those forty days. Let us come to it step by step through experiences such as we have ourselves. When a man does a heroic action at some cost to himself, he knows that though it costs it counts. The highest reaches that any man ever has of joy in this world are those which he has through the ministration of grief and of sorrow. When those persons who went to the stake for their faith, and sang and rejoiced as the fire blazed about them, and sent out from their pulpit of flame joyous songs of hope, do you suppose they were sufferers? There is an ecstasy in a man’s soul at such a time which so affects his nervous system as to lift him above suffering. I do not doubt that there have been crowned hours when that martyr to the liberty of Hungary, Kossuth, though an exile, poor and alone, was not unhappy. I know that sometimes when men are misrepresented, and derided, and scoffed at, and kennels and sewers are opened upon them, there is a serene height into which they rise, where no one can any more touch them with sorrow than the fowler’s shot can touch the eagle that soars just under the sun. And do you suppose the Saviour knew what He suffered when, “for the joy that was set before Him”--the redemption of the world; an eternity of blessedness for the myriads upon myriads that should find life in His outpouring life; and the glory of the Godhead--“He endured the Cross”? Do not you suppose that this joy that He saw in the future made Him a man of joy, and not of sorrow? He “is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” For what? To do what the morning does--pour light over darkness. To do what the dews do--cool the parchedplants after a fervid day when they are well-nigh wilted. He sits there to bring sons and daughters home to glory. Where the father and mother have waited expectant for the dear children that have been long away to come home, does joy beat upon the instrument of the soul when they do come? and do you suppose that Christ, sitting on the eternal threshold, and seeing sons and daughters coming home to glory through His instrumentality, does not experience joy? He said in the hour of His deepest darkness, “Peace I give you-My peace.” If in the very acme and midnight of His suffering He had so much peace that He could divide it and share it with His disciples, do you not suppose that now, a Prince of Peace, He is also a Prince of Joy? (H. W. Beecher.)

The wiliness to the sustaining principle

I. Life is a journey; BUT LIFE IS SOMETHING MORE. Life is a work. It is the great opportunity for the artist who is toiling, by Divine assistance, at the world outside him; because, first, he is toiling at his own Soul. The Man of Sorrows--it is a strange paradox, but it is a fact--the Man of Sorrows supplies us with the sustaining principle, anticipated joy. Joy has a depth and a stillness far beyond mere merriment. Joy has a moral force, because it rises out of and combines real and constituent spiritual elements, loftier, more enduring than pleasure; it draws its life and gathers its strength from the most vigorous and the most varied faculties of our nature. Joy! It co-ordinates and harmonises all rays of moral glory; it has the sweetness and freshness of the music of Mendelssohn; it touches with the chromatic tenderness of Spohr; it unites the depth and splendour of the colouring of Titian, and the refinement and severity of Francia’s Christ. Joy! and the crucifix! Yes, it has its roots, remember, in a rugged soil. Travellers in the Tyrol, so an able writer tells us, noticed in the distance the crest of the mountains cinctured with a girdle of vivid blue. Was it a mirage, a magic deception, worked up by the mist and the light and the winds? Would it pause at the approach of invading footsteps, or would it--as all beautiful things in this low world--would it fade and be gone? They drew on, and found it not fainter, but clearer, not vanished, not gone, no trick of the sunlight, no passing effect of the cloud; it was a belt of vivid gentians, drawing strength from the rugged rock and unsympathising stone, taking the light and outfacing the heavens with the intensity of its burning blue. Now such is the joy of the spirit. Beautiful; not vanishing, but vigorous; anticipating what it knows to be certain, the final victory of truth and righteousness, having, therefore, its roots in “ eternal things.” This, too, this is preached from the Cross; hence, my brothers, what looks like a streak of sunlight on the unrestful ocean becomes a stimulating and sustaining principle in the labour of life.

II. This, then, may become the stimulating principle of a persevering life, and the question is, HOW CAN IT BE LEARNED? The answer is found in the twofold aspect of the Cross.

1. If we catalogue the various departments of the subject-matter of our Redeemer’s joy, we find in the Cross a revelation. It reveals the mystery of the Atonement. But a mystery it is, beautiful, wonderful, bringing life out of death, as spring flowers are the children of the winter, and forming the subject-matter Of our Redeemer’s joy.

2. And the Cross is an example. Speaking morally, it springs directly out of the self-sacrificing temper, gains, in fact, its unselfish colouring there, teaches us what is the temper, the prevailing atmosphere needful for a useful life. We know of no self-denial so personal to ourselves, so complete and lasting, as the self-denial of the Cross; and we read in the joy of the Conqueror not only the principle which stimulates His endeavour, but also the evidence of His love. He had a delight, indeed, not, to use a modern phrase, “in influencing the masses,” but in saving you and me.

3. And another subject-matter of that joy--we dare to say it, because His apostle taught us to do so--was the crowning in Himself of human perfection--the vindication of goodness. Goodness! the greatness of doing what you ought to do; goodness, the greatness of loyalty amid sorrow. This, the highest height of all human excellencies, is crowned on the throne of the Crucified, in the person of “ Him who liveth and was dead.”

III. WHAT THEN, WE ASK, ARE THOSE OPPOSING FORCES WHICH THIS PRINCIPLE IS REQUIRED TO BREAK AND CONQUER?

1. There is a force, fierce as an unfettered animal, wild as the wind, strong as the storm; it springs from the fever and fret of a restless heart needing and finding no satisfaction. Call it taedium vitae; call it ennui; call it a lazy weariness of spirit in the overworked toiler for this world, or in the blasé idler--whatever you call it, it is that mortal sickness of the human spirit, worn out with a life of unsatisfied desire, with the knowledge that riches and pleasure cannot gain for it a salvation or win for it a rest--possessions only of those who hold the hope of a future, itself the first dawning of supernatural joy.

2. We have another force in the pressure of the present. It surely comes to all either in failure of health, or overwork, or bewildering anxiety, or heartbreaking bereavement, or change of circumstances, or fading of dreams, or parting from others; it is felt in bereavement that has broken you, sorrow that has subdued you, change of circumstances, loss of fortune, forgetfulness of friends, disbelief in you by those whom you believed in, and, what is infinitely worse, disbelief in them when you have found them wanting, and the sad remembrance that you expected too much, and have been accordingly the victim of disappointment not undeserved. It may produce despondency; it may eventuate in a life of miserable murmuring and habitual discontent; or it may be made to yield the “ peaceable fruit of righteousness “ to them who apply the stimulating and sustaining principle.

3. And there is personal and spiritual and accomplished sin. Have you not felt the fierceness of desire, and the difficulty of its domination? Oh, it is when you get to the Crucified you see in the Atonement the way to penitence, the possibility of pardon, the path of peace.

4. And religious perplexity. You are in an age when Christianity is attacked with pitiless severity; you need fear no argument against the truth shaking your faith, though it assail your intellect, if the spiritual conditions are fulfilled; but the strength of your stand on the side of the Crucified is not the strength of your degree at Oxford or Cambridge, it is not the power of your intellect; it rests and will rest on moral grounds. Are you trying to do your duty? Are you living in communion with your Creator? Then you are in the way to keep alive a sustaining principle which will breast the religious difficulty of this great, and, I add it, of this bad time. If, yes, if we are to avoid the curse of Meroz, it is by the hope of a future, and the joy in God that we need to be stimulated, that we need to be sustained in coming “to the help of the Lord against the mighty.”

IV. YES, THE CONDITIONS OF PRESERVING SUCH A PRINCIPLE ARE NOT FAR TO FIND. On the Cross we have our example; in us it is a gift of the Holy Ghost sent by our ascended Master; and it is a fruit of the Spirit in its relation to God; it depends for its energy upon our faithfulness; it is not so much the quiet joy from an accomplished fact as the larger, bracing joy of anticipated victory; and it is preserved bright and sustaining in those who willingly make sacrifices for truth and duty. The sea sets onward through the Straits of Messina with a heaving swell, smooth, yet unflagging, even when the winds are silent and the skies are clear; the Tiber rushes onward, mad and swollen, century after century, by the Sylvan’s Cave; now like the restful, now like the restless waters, human waves unnumbered of the rising and falling peoples have swept over the hills and plains of Italy, have passed and disappeared; civilisations many, dim or brilliant, across the histories of Greece, of Syria, of the twilight East, have danced into the sunlight and died into the shade; but, in storm or summer stillness Soracte has towered above the dim Campagna and the Sabine Mountains, calm and stately and crowned with snow; and amid all human agonies and the tragedies of the peoples, the giants of the Abarim, folding round them their draperies of purple, have watched the starlight, or wrapped in their robes of roseate brilliance, have reckoned with the dawn. So human passions, troubles, sins, may flow onward in wild current, but principles, supernatural principles, stand firm. (Canon Knox Little.)

Joy triumphing

I. THE JOY OF OBEDIENCE. Can we understand this--a joy in doing another’s will, not our own? Yes--and no. As we naturally are we cannot take such a thing in--we want to do what we please--we fret at having any restraint put on us. And yet in proportion as we learn to love God through Jesus Christ, we learn to know what it is to be quite at God’s bidding, and yet to be in perfect freedom.

II. THE JOY OF LOVE. If it be asked, whom He so dearly loved that it was an intense joy to show His love to them, the answer is sinners; for them He came into the world: unlovely objects--lovers of their own will--sheep who had strayed out of a safe fold into a waste howling wilderness; yet in our unloveliness, and wandering, and wilfulness, though He grieved at it, He loved us.

III. THE JOY OF HELP. He knew that His own would not receive Him, yet to feel that His help was open to “ whosoever will”--that He was coming to bring pardon and deliverance and life even to the unthankful--was a joy that outwent the cold manger and the homeless wanderings and the spiteful conspiracies and the bitter Cross--the intense joy of helping the helpless.

IV. THE JOY OF VICTORY. He knew how He should meet the unconquered foe, Death, and by yielding awhile before him, turn and rout him all the more gloriously. He knew that for those sinners whom He so dearly loved, there would henceforth be but a crippled foe to be bruised under their feet shortly; and the chains of bondage struck off, that henceforth we should not be slaves to sin. He foresaw all this, and He heard by anticipation the notes, “Lift up your heads, O ye gates,” and the still more distant ones, “The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ,” and He girded Himself for the struggle as already a conqueror. (John Kempthorne, M. A.)

The Commander’s conflict and triumph

I. FIRST, THE COMMANDER’S CONFLICT: “Who for the joy that was set before Him, endured the Cross, despising the shame.” Now, there are three points about our Lord’s work set forth in thence three clauses, all of them somewhat unlike the ordinary tone in which it is spoken of. We have the motive of His sufferings presented as being an unseen reward for Himself, which He brought vividly before Him by the exercise of His faith. We have His sufferings presented, not in reference to their saving power, but solely as being an illustration of His heroic patient endurance. And we have the contumely and shame of His death presented, not as showing to us His willing self-abasement and His loving lowliness, but as revealing to us the scorn with which He looked upon all hindrances that would bar His path and shake His resolute will.

II. THE COMMANDER’S TRIUMPH, AND OUR SHARE IN IT. “Who is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” That “sitting” expresses rest, as from a finished and perfect work; a rest which is not inactivity; dominion extending over all the universe, and judgment. These three, rest, dominion, judgment, are the prerogatives of the Man Jesus. That is what He won by His bloody passion and sacrifice. And now what has that to do with us? We are to think of this triumph of the Commander as being, first of all, a revelation and a prophecy for us. A revelation and a prophecy. Nobody knows anything about the future life except by means of Jesus Christ. In His exaltation to the throne a new hope dawns on humanity. If we believe that the Man Jesus sits on the throne of the universe, we have a new conception of what is possible for humanity. If a perfect human nature has entered into the participation of the Divine, our natures too may be perfect, and what He is and where He is, there, too, we may hope to come. And, still further, Christ’s triumphal entrance into the heavens is not only prophecy of ours, but it is power to fulfil its own prophecy. He has gone up on high, sitting at the right hand of the throne of God to work for us. His work is not done. He works for us, with us, and in us, as Lord of providence and King of grace, sustaining and upholding us in all our weakness, and tending the smoky flame of our dim faith till it bursts into clear radiance. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

The joy of Jesus:

Everything exists for an end--has its place in God’s wide world, and is intended to answer some purpose, to accomplish some end. Every rational being has an object “set before” it. The creatures that are not rational live and exist for an end, but the end is not “ set before” them. The end is ever before their Creator, and Master, and Ruler; but the end is not set before them. They have not eyes to see it; they have no powers, or faculties with which to pursue it; but every rational being has an object “ set before “ it. And it is important for us very often to ask, for what end were we made? and for what end have we been redeemed? In a state of prior existence our Redeemer had, as it respects this world, an object before Him, and that object He came, as you know, into this world to pursue. In the words before us is one view of the goal to which our Saviour ran, or of the prize for which His course was pursued. It is called “the joy”--that is, the cause and the occasion of the joy, “who, for the joy that was set before Him.”

I. Let us ask, WHAT IS THIS JOY--the joy that was set before Jesus Christ? God speaks of this in the whispers of prophecy; and according to prophecy the joy set before Jesus was the joy of bruising the serpent’s head; it was the joy of gathering together a scattered people; it was the joy of imparting knowledge to the ignorant upon the highest subjects; it was the joy of forming a perfect and everlasting kingdom out of lifeless and rebel souls. God exhibits it, too, in the pictures of the Levitical dispensation. It is the joy of pardoning the guilty, and of purifying the unclean; it is the joy of elevating those who have been cast down and downtrodden; it is the joy of educating those whose nature has been bruised and crushed. Jesus, too, Himself speaks of it. He speaks of it in parable. He likens it to the joy of a shepherd when having sought the lost sheep he has found it; and to the joy of a woman, who having missed treasure discovers it again; and to the joy of the father of a prodigal who is permitted to receive that prodigal in true penitence back again to his heart and to his home.

1. It was the blessedness of redeemed men. And what is their joy? It is the joy of coming out of darkness into light; it is the joy of passing from death, and from a death of which they are conscious, into life; it is the joy of coming out of wretched ignorance into sure and certain knowledge; it is the joy of rising from a state of distrust into a condition of confidence and faith; it is the joy of being converted from enmity, and alienation, and indifference towards God, into filial love.

2. The joy which redeemed men may diffuse, as well as the joy which they inherit. “Ye are the salt of the earth,” said Christ, and “Ye are the light of the world.” God alone can tell the blessedness which one redeemed man may be the means of communicating into others. How many tears may the hand of a true Christian wipe away?

3. The joy which the redemption of every sinner gives to the unfallen creation of God.

4. The joy of Jesus was the joy of God Himself in the salvation of the lost.

5. The joy set before Jesus was the joy which must be awakened in Jesus as the means of diffusing and spreading so much blessedness. “He shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied.” His joy was the joy too of being recognised as the great Joy Giver to a number of men which no man can number; and the joy of working out, even to its consummation, the greatest and most glorious work of Jehovah.

II. THE CHARACTERISTICS OF THE JOY OF JESUS. It is the joy of love--not the joy of the miser; not the joy of the spendthrift; not the joy of the lover of sinful pleasure; not the joy of the unlawfully ambitious--it is the joy of the benefactor, it is the joy of the mother; and while it is the joy of love, it is the joy of that extraordinary variety of love which inspired men call grace--the strongest form, the most beauteous form, the divinest form. It is the joy of holiness, too, and of perfect goodness.

III. Let me remind you THAT SUCH BLESSEDNESS IS WON FOR YOU. The foundation of joy Jesus has laid; will you build upon it? or will you neglect the foundation? Will you neglect to build upon the foundation which this Jesus has laid for you? If you thus neglect to build, see, you are reflecting upon Him. You are bringing clouds upon His wisdom, His love, on His power. Or you are reflecting upon the foundation? You treat the foundation as though it were either unnecessary, or as though it were not worthy of your building upon it. What blessedness may be enjoyed by you and what blessedness may be spread by you! You can spread Divine joy--will you? Will you make the joy of others your goal? Archbishop Leighton has said somewhere, “It is a strange folly in multitudes of us to set ourselves no mark, to propound no end in the hearing of the gospel. The merchant sails, not merely that he may sail, but for traffic; and he traffics, not simply for traffic, but that he may be rich. The husbandman ploughs, not merely to keep himself busy, and with no further end, but ploughs that he may sow; and he sows, not for sowing sake, but sows that he may reap, and reap with advantage. And shall we do the most excellent and fruitful work fruitlessly--hear only to hear, and look no further? This is indeed a great vanity and a great misery, to lose the labour and gain nothing by that which duly used would be of all others most advantageous and gainful; and yet,” he says, “all meetings for religious purposes are full of this.” Well, now, we have heard in a few brief words a little of the joy which Christ set before Himself--and I ask, have we all a mark? Have we an end? Is my life and yours a race with a goal, and a prize and a judge, and a cloud of witnesses? Is it so? Is there a joy set before us? If there be a joy set before us, who has set it before us? And what is it? If your joy be Christ’s joy, and you make it your goal, and your prize, and if you run your race with patience, the day will soon come when you shall find yourselves not worn and weary on the course, but sweetly resting at the goal; and the day, too, will come when your feeble hands shall grasp the prize--your hands stretched out by the impulse of a heart filled with joy unspeakable, and full of glory. (S. Martin.)

Christ’s prospective joy:

Just as the sculptor, before he begins to chip the marble into shape, sees with his mind’s eye the figure which is first conceived by his genius and then fashioned by his skill--so with our Divine Redeemer. He from eternity, before man was created, beheld him coming into being, placed on his own footing, falling, redeemed, saved. And, as the result of His atoning work, there rises up, through His Spirit, the fulfilment of His own ideal, a new creation, a living Church. (C. Clemance. D. D.)

Christ’s joy varied as the relationship He sustains to men

May we not safely say that the joy will be as varied as the relationship which our Saviour bears to us? It will be the joy of the Sufferer whose agony is forgotten in the abundance of bliss--the joy of the Sower in reaping the abundance of the harvest--the joy of the Shepherd in seeing all the sheep as one flock, safe for ever in the heavenly fold--the joy of the Friend in seeing all His friends by His side in a union with Him and with each other that no misapprehension shall ever mar, and no sin shall ever stain--it will be the joy of the Warrior when the battle is over, when every enemy is still as a stone, and the summons to fight is exchanged for victorious rest--it will be the joy of the Leader, who has brought all His host into the promised land--it will be the joy of the Mediator, who has discharged His trust and surrendered it to the Father, saying “Of those whom Thou hast given Me I have lost none”--it will be the joy of the King who is to reign for ever over a kingdom in which revolt has been made impossible through the achievements of almighty grace--it will be the joy of the Redeemer when the redemption is complete, fulfilling His longings and His prayers--it will be the joy of the Firstborn Son at seeing every member of the new-born family safe in a happy home, which no sin can disturb and no death invade--it will be the joy of the Son of Man in witnessing the ideal of human perfection--it will be the joy of the Son of God, as to principalities and powers in heavenly places He reveals through a glorified Church the manifold wisdom of God, showing to worlds on worlds what infinite love devised and Infinite Power achieved! (C. Clemance. D. D.)

Endured the Cross

The Cross carried, and the shame despised by Jesus

I. WHAT WAS THE CROSS WHICH JESUS CHRIST ENDURED? Was not the whole life of Jesus cross-bearing from the beginning to the end? But there were three things which may emphatically be called the Cross of Christ.

1. His being made sin for us. God did not make Jesus sinful; but God treated Jesus Christ as though He were a sinner. Herein was a Cross.

2. Jesus was wounded by God for transgression, and bruised for iniquity.

3. Jesus Christ’s dying as a notorious malefactor, and thus dying for the ungodly was another part of His Cross.

II. WHAT WAS THE SHAME WHICH HE DESPISED? This was disgrace, reproach, with the passions and emotions which they are supposed to awaken, and which in all purity and power they did awaken in the human nature of your Saviour.

III. BUT WHAT WAS THE MANNER AND SPIRIT OF HIS ENDURANCE AND OF HIS CONTEMPT? For this chiefly is the point. Observe, He endured the Cross. He felt the Cross to be a Cross. He felt it as a man. Do not overlook the complete humanity of your Redeemer. He felt His Cross more than we could have felt it could we have carried it. Sinfulness blunts the susceptibilities of our nature: purity and holiness keep the pores of the spirit open. This was the case with Christ. He endured the Cross in its full weight. He looked at the Cross as it was presented to Him, and He lifted it, and sustained on His own shoulder its full weight; and I would say to you if you want to get any good out of cross-bearing, always let the full weight of it come upon your shoulder. I do not say let the full weight of it come upon your shoulder, you being unstrengthened by the Almighty power; but I say, use no artifice to escape the pressure of any trouble that God sends you. When God sends a trouble to you, let it come down upon you as He sends it, and employ no artifices to reduce its pressure. Jesus endured the Cross in its full weight, and he endured the Cross to the very end. He took it up, and to the close of life He carried it; but He endured it courageously, patiently, cheerfully, and effectually. “Despising the shame.” Jesus felt the shame. Did His cheek never redden, think you, or His lip never quiver when reviled? Was there no blush upon His cheek when men called Him a Sabbath-breaker, and a blasphemer, and said that He cast out devils by the prince of devils? Often, doubtless, did that cheek redden and that lip quiver, tie felt the shame: and, mark, to despise being despised is about the hardest thing in life. Why do you find some sincere Christians continuing in certain ecclesiastical connections into which their convictions would never lead them, and in which their convictions do not keep them? Because they cannot despise being despised. You may account for the anomalous position of hundreds of Christ’s disciples by this very circumstance--they have not learned, even from the Great Teacher of this hard lesson, to despise the shame; they have not learned to despise being despised. The shame was never seen to hinder Christ from saying a true word, or from doing a right thing. Now all this is the more remarkable because of three circumstances. First, Christ’s clear foresight of the Cross and of the shame. He saw both before Him, yet He yielded Himself to endure them. Secondly, His full appreciation of the Cross and the shame. And, thirdly, His deep and quick sensitiveness towards all cross-bearing and towards all shame. Now, bearing these things in mind, Christ’s enduring the Cross and despising the shame becomes exceedingly wonderful as they appear in our Saviour’s life. Having expounded the text, let us use the truths it contains for practical purposes. Observe, then, that this text exhibits something done in which you may find rest and peace. Jesus has endured the Cross; Jesus has despised the shame. Your cross which you could not endure He has endured; the shame which you never could have borne, and which would have overwhelmed you, He so bore as to despise it. And He asks you to believe this, and to act accordingly. He would not have you go about carrying the cross, say, of your own guilt. You are not to carry that cross. You have your cross to carry, but this is not yours. But, further, the text suggests that there is something yet to be done--a very different thing from the something done; but still there is something to be done. Every man is called to carry a cross, but not every man the same cross; nor is every shoulder equally sensitive or equally strong. Troubles vary, and the pressure of the same troubles is different upon different individuals-and you know why. The reason is to be found in temperament, in disposition, in the state of the body, in the condition of the spirit, in the character, in the pursuits, and in the circumstances of a man. But we all have our cross and our shame; and I have now to ask you, do we endure the cross? Do we despise the shame? (S. Martin.)

The Saviour’s endurance and joy:

There are two ways in which the history of Bible saints ought to stimulate our faith and courage. This purpose they serve when presented to our minds as examples. They prove that the truths which the Bible teaches are not airy fancies or musty theories, which cannot be reduced into practice, and shrink from the fiery tests of every-day life. The force of example is a thought which long ago has been coined into a proverb. The ancient Romans were accustomed to place the busts of famous ancestors in the vestibules of their houses, in order to remind young people, as they passed to and fro, of the noble deeds of those ancestors, and fire them with the laudable ambition to excel in wisdom, goodness, and valour. The life of a hero has been known to colour the spirit of an age. The life of Napoleon Buonaparte has kindled the love of military glory in many a youthful heart; the touching story of Howard’s labours has moved many a man to deeds of charity and kindness.

I. CONSIDER THE SEVERE ORDEAL, THROUGH WHICH HE PASSED. The atoning sorrows of Christ came from several sources or directions.

1. Strange as it may appear, much of the pain and grief came from human malice and opposition. I say strange, for one would have concluded that all the sympathy and help of men would most certainly be enlisted on His side, as soon as they were told that to save their souls was His gracious object.

2. Another element in the sufferings of Jesus was the malicious opposition of the devil and his angels. As a Divine Being, of course these rebellious creatures were subject to His power and could do Him no harm. But in condescending to assume human nature, and undertaking to work out the plan of salvation, Christ voluntarily exposed Himself to the power of these malignant spirits.

3. But the chief source of the Redeemer’s suffering was the wrath of His Father. As the fire which consumed the sacrifices laid upon Jewish altars came down from heaven, so the holy fire that consumed the sacrifice offered upon the altar of Calvary descended from God the Father. But although the Father’s wrath was not vindictive in its nature, and rested not on personal but public grounds, it pressed with fearful weight upon the Saviour. With the smile of His Father shining into His soul, and lighting up therein an abiding summer, Christ could have braved any trial to which He might be summoned without a moan or murmur. But why those shrinkings in Gethsemane from the task that was assigned Him? If it be possible, let this cup pass from Me.” That cup contained ingredients so bitter that none but God could have compounded them.

II. CONSIDER, AGAIN, THE SPIRIT HE DISPLAYED. It is true He did not covet suffering. He made no virtue of endurance. His courage was apparent through the whole course of His public life, but not with such a splendour of manifestation as in His dying hour. Some plants when pressed display more of their colours, and diffuse more of their fragrance. The diamond when broken into splinters glitters all the more; and despite the dishonours that gather so thickly around the Cross of Emmanuel, the lustre of His courage burst through the gloom, and shone with unwonted power. And if you seek the highest pattern of serene patience and fortitude, it is to the sufferer that hangs on the Cross of Calvary we point you.

III. CONSIDER, AGAIN, THE MOTIVE WHICH SUSTAINED HIM. “Who for the joy that was set before Him.” (J. H. Morgan)

Despising the shame

The shameful Sufferer

I. THE SHAMEFUL SUFFERER. The text speaks of shame, and therefore before entering upon suffering, I shall endeavour to say a word or two upon the shame. Perhaps there is nothing which men so much abhor as shame. We find that death itself has often been preferable in the minds of men to shame; and even the most wicked and callous-hearted have dreaded the shame and contempt of their fellow-creatures far more than any tortures to which they could have been exposed. It is well known that criminals and malefactors have often had a greater fear of public contempt than of aught else. In the Saviour’s case, shame would be peculiarly shameful; the nobler a man’s nature, the more readily does he perceive the slightest contempt, and the more acutely does he feel it. The eye that hath faced the sun cannot endure darkness without a tear. But Christ who was more than noble, matchlessly noble, something more than of a royal race, for Him to be shamed and mocked must have been dreadful indeed.

Besides, some minds are of such a delicate and sensitive disposition that they feel things far more than others. He loved with all His soul; His strong passionate heart was fixed upon the welfare of the human race; and to be mocked by those for whom He died, to be spit upon by the creatures whom He came to save, to come unto His own, and to find that His own received Him not, but actually cast Him out, this was pain indeed.

1. And behold the Saviour’s shame in His shameful accusation. He in whom was no sin, and who had done no ill, was charged with sin of the blackest kind. He was first arraigned before the Sanhedrim on no less a charge than that of blasphemy. Could He blaspheme? No. And it is just because it was so contrary to His character that He felt the accusation. Nor did this content them. Having charged Him with breaking the first table, they then charged Him with violating the second: they said He was guilty of sedition; they declared that He was a traitor to the government of Caesar, that He stirred up the people, declaring that He Himself was a king. What would you think, good citizens and good Christians, if you were charged with such a crime as this? Ah! but your Master had to endure this as well as the other. He despised the shameful indictments, and was numbered with the transgressors.

2. Christ not only endured shameful accusation, but He endured shameful mocking. When Christ was taken away to Herod, Herod set Him at nought. The original word signifies “made nothing” of Him. It is an amazing thing to find that man should make nothing of the Son of God, who is all in all.

3. He endured a shameful death. But this is the death of a villain, of a murderer, of an assassin--a death painfully protracted, one which cannot be equalled in all inventions of human cruelty for suffering and ignominy. Christ Himself endured this. Remember, too, that in the Saviour’s case there were special aggravations of this shame. He had to carry His own Cross; He was crucified, too, at the common place of execution, Calvary, analogous to our ancient Tyburn, or our present Old Bailey. He was put to death, too, at a time when Jerusalem was full of people. It was at the feast of the passover, when the crowd had greatly increased, and when the representatives of all nations would be present to behold the spectacle. Was ever shame like this?

II. His GLORIOUS MOTIVE. What was that which made Jesus speak like this?--“For the joy that was set before Him.”

III. I WILL TRY AND HOLD THE SAVIOUR UP FOR OUR IMITATION. Christian men! if Christ endured all this merely for the joy of saving you, will you be ashamed of bearing anything for Christ? Are there any of you who feel that if you follow Christ you must lose by it--lose your station, or lose your reputation? Will you be laughed at if you leave the world and follow Jesus? Oh! and will you turn aside because of these little things, when He would not turn aside, though all the world mocked Him, till He could say, “It is finished.” (C. H. Surgeon.)

Despise the shame!

Learn the practical wisdom of minimising the hindrances to your Christian career, pulling them down to their true smallness. Do not let them come to you and impose upon you with the notion that they are big and formidable. The most of them are only white sheets, and a rustic boor behind them, like a vulgar ghost. You go up to them and they will be small immediately! “Despise the shame! and it disappears.” And how is that to be done? In two ways. Go up the mountain, and the things in the plain will look very small; the higher you rise the more insignificant they will seem. Hold fellowship with God, and live up beside your Master, and the threatening foes here will seem very, very unformidable. Another way is--pull up the curtain, and gaze on what is behind it. The low foot-hills that lie at the base of some Alpine country may look high when seen from the plain, as long as the snowy summits are wrapped in mist, but when a little puff of wind comes and clears away the fog from the lofty peaks, nobody looks at the little green hills in front. So the world’s hindrances, and the world’s difficulties and cares, they look very lofty till the cloud lifts. And when we see the great white summits, everything lower does not seem so very high after all. Look to Jesus, and that will dwarf the difficulties. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Is set down on the right hand

Jesus enthroned

I. Let us look at the fact here presented to us--or at THE POSITION ASSIGNED TO JESUS CHRIST. He is said to be seated “at the right hand of the throne of God.” A place at the right hand of any person in authority and power is employed by the Sacred Writers to represent a position of high honour. It may be that you have a tendency to look chiefly to the Cross of Christ. Yon may be yourselves the children of sorrow, and often in affliction. Your own cross may be exceedingly heavy; it may tremendously oppress you; and your temperament and your natural disposition combining with your circumstances may lead you to look chiefly at the Cross of Christ. Believe that your Lord died and was buried; but do not keep your eyes fixed on the Cross and on the sepulchre, for He is not now on that Cross; He is not now in that sepulchre. And you in your thoughts of Christ, and in your feelings about Christ, are not to be merely crucified with Him, and dead with Him, but you must be risen with Christ, your affections being fixed on Christ as above. He dwells in the midst of the highest manifestations of Deity. He is worshipped in heaven with God--as God. His name is associated as no other name with that of Jehovah.He has Divine authority; and He has also Almighty power. Although distinct from Jehovah, He is and He appears to be one with Jehovah--one as an object of reverence, of fear, and of love--one in His administration of universal government. Thus is He seated “at the right hand of the throne of God.”

II. NOW SEE THE USE WHICH WE CHRISTIANS ARE TO MAKE OF THE KNOWLEDGE THAT JESUS IS IN THIS POSITION.

1. Here is a fountain of joy from which Christians may drink sacred pleasure. Jesus is set down at the right hand of the throne of God--then His work of atonement is finished; then His sacrifice is accepted; then His humiliation is terminated; then His sorrows are for ever fled away. We joy in this for His own sake. The Cross of Christ was a real cross to Him. When He is said to suffer, He did suffer. His soul was really troubled, and His spirit was exceedingly sorrowful. And now that He wears a crown, He feels to wear a Crown. But we may joy in this also for the Church’s sake--for just as Jesus carried the Cross to bless the Church, so does He wearthe crown to bless the Church. And we may joy in the coronation of Jesus for the sake of our individual well-being. We who trust our Saviour have a personal connection with His Cross; and we have a personal connection with His crown. And further, we may joy in this fact for the world’s sake. He has ascended on high and received gifts for men, even for the rebellious, that the Lord God may dwell among them.

2. But here, too, is a motive to patience, and much help in cherishing patience. The course of the disciple is in some respects parallel with that of the Master. Like Christ’s, it is a fixed and definite course. And it is a course in which there are many hindrances to be laid aside and sorrows to be borne. But it is a course to which there is an appointed goal, and a course in which the goal as a rule may be seen. It is a course, further, which makes large demands upon patience. Hence the injunction “ to run with patience the race which is set before us.” But now, just see how the position of Jesus bears upon the cultivation of patience. Jesus is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. Once He was running His race on this earth: now He is “set down.” Now He has no need of patience--He is sitting at the right hand of the throne of God. And if you run, if you wait, if you be patient, you will one day sit down with Him on His throne, even as He is seated on His Father’s throne.

3. And there is just one other thought which we would suggest to you. No forerunners helped Jesus--not one. He had not a being to look to who had run in any respect a similar course, and reached His goal--not one. There was the Father above Him, but the Father had not become man. He had not been a man of sorrows. There we angels ministering to Him, but no angels in the skies had attempted to do what Jesus had come to do. (S. Martin.)


Verses 1-17

Verse 3

Hebrews 12:3

Consider Him that endured such contradiction

Christ’s afflictions a lesson for His people:

All heaven considers or looks at Christ.
The angels look at Him with reverence and adoring wonder, as their Lord and King. All hell considers or looks at Christ. The devils look at Him with terror and alarm, as their Judge and the Author of their punishment. But neither heaven nor hell can get such precious views of Christ as can those whom Christ came to redeem. They consider Him as the Lawgiver who shows the path of duty, as the Redeemer who shows the way of life. They consider Him as the Physician who heals their spiritual diseases, as the Pattern after which they are themselves to copy. They consider Him who endured the contradiction of sinners, in order that they may be not wearied, nor faint in their minds. The flowers that bloom upon a thousand hills, in more than royal stateliness, are rich in fragrant moisture; but it is not every gaudy insect that can extract the honey they yield. So, Christ, however rich and precious He be to those who know Him, is rich and precious to them alone. The ungodly get nothing by their contemplation of Him, except, indeed, a greater aversion ever to contemplate Him again. Believers are always benefited by this exercise. They are made better, wiser, holier, happier, by it. Looking unto Jesus is the attitude of spiritual health, the posture of spiritual activity, the habit of spiritual enjoyment: it is a blessed exercise--it strengthens the soul, it animates the heart, it enlivens the whole frame of the inner man. And while it is beneficial to all who engage heartily in it, be their circumstances what they may, it is peculiarly beneficial to all those who are in distress or perplexity. The contemplation of Him who suffered the contradiction of sinners hinders the mind from becoming weary and faint.

I. LOOK AT THE PICTURE WHICH THE APOSTLE HERE EXHIBITS. It is the picture of Him who endured such contradiction of sinners. It is the picture of a mighty Being, Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It represents Him, however, as man. It represents Him as suffering contradiction, that is, animosity, hatred, and persecution. It represents Him as suffering all this from sinners. It represents the suffering as being in every respect intense, aggravated, and indescribable. Let us seek to fill our minds with a sense of what He underwent.

1. The sufferings of Christ were Divinely appointed and tremendously severe. They were not the mere natural evils which are shed upon us, all in consequence of Adam’s disobedience. They were singular, peculiar, and transcendental. They had no like, no parallel. They were infinite sufferings.

2. The subject of Christ’s suffering is deserving of consideration because, had He chosen, He could have avoided them. But He did not so choose. He did not spare Himself. He gave Himself up to death for us all.

3. Again, in estimating the contradiction of sinners endured by Christ, let us remember that He was, through out the whole of it, actuated by disinterested motives.

4. Once more, Jesus did not deserve the punishment that was inflicted upon Him.

5. Lastly, the nature of Christ’s endurance will be still more strikingly manifested when it is recollected that it was borne for the sake of those who inflicted it.

II. Let us now speak of THE LESSONS CONVEYED BY THE PICTURE on which we have been meditating.

1. By looking to the afflictions of Christ we derive materials for encouragement, because we could not of ourselves do what Christ has done for us. We may endure contradiction of sinners, as Christ Himself did; but ours will never be such contradiction as His.

2. Again, by looking to the tribulations of Christ we derive materials of encouragement, because we should not expect to be treated better than He Himself was.

3. By looking to the tribulations of Christ we derive materials of encouragement, because, as our great Model and Exemplar, He has exhibited to us a specimen of patient endurance and submission under the most dreadful inflictions.

4. By looking to the tribulations of Christ we derive materials of encouragement, because we find that, as our great High Priest and Redeemer, He is able to sympathise with us in all our afflictions.

5. Lastly, by looking to the tribulations of Christ we derive materials of encouragement, because, as He triumphed over all His enemies, so shall we if we be partakers of His salvation. Christians are one with their Redeemer. (Alex. Nisbet.)

The endurance of Christ

The contemplation of Christ’s sufferings may, or may not, be spiritually beneficial to us. It is possible to occupy our attention with the physical side of the Passion to the exclusion of the moral and spiritual, and to think almost exclusively of the sufferings and scarcely at all of the Sufferer. Such contemplation may work upon our feelings much in the same way as thrilling incidents in a powerful work of fiction, and create a spurious sympathy with the Sufferer which cannot produce the effect which the passion of our Lord ought to have upon our lives. The remedy is to be found mainly in “considering Him that endured”--in keeping before us the personality of the Sufferer. But we shall only rightly consider the Sufferer Himself when we keep in mind the purpose He had in His endurance. He suffers for sinners, as well as from sinners; and He suffers for the direct purpose of removing the contradiction which He endures--to take away sins. And all profitable contemplation of the sufferings of Christ ought to have in it the desire and willingness to have its purpose fulfilled in us. In considering Him we must keep in mind His faultlessness; the entire absence of any justification for the contradiction. He was not only faultless, but good. Although graced with the perfect qualities of human virtue, and rich in the beneficent works of goodness, He endured the contradiction of sinners. Remember, too, that within, and perfectly conjoined to, that holy humanity, was all the fulness of God. In every act of endurance there is the manhood which endures as human, and there is the deeper endurance of God underlying it all. The word “contradiction” is here used to include the whole of the opposition which our Lord experienced from sinners. The Cross was only the climax of a long and varied course of antagonism out of which it sprung, without which it would not have been reached, and by which alone it can be understood and duly estimated. The first contradiction Christ endured was in the unbelief which met Him. He was the True One and the Truth; but they affirmed Him either deceived or a deceiver--utterly untrustworthy. But this contradiction advanced to open condemnation. He was said to be “a gluttonous man,” &c. They said His power over evil spirits was due to a league between Himself and the prince of the devils. They charged Him with being the enemy of God and man, a blasphemer and an evildoer. Remember who it was against whom all these false and bitter things were spoken. Consider Him, and see His brave endurance. And there was an element in all this contradiction which added to its painfulness. It was not the result, in general, of a mistake, which could be excused by the Sufferer. It had its root in personal hate (John 15:24). And He knew the cause ofthat hate. It came out of a conscious moral antipathy. His pure, holy, humble, unselfish life made them conscious of the unreality and hollowness of their assumed excellence. And He endured this hate--He who combined in His own person all that is gracious in God and lovable in man. This antagonism and hate could not fail to proceed to acts of violence if occasion should arise. “They took up stones to stone Him”; and, think you, was it not as if He felt the blows of hardness of heart hurled at Him as He preserved Himself from this attempt upon His life? To Christ the spiritual was not less real than the physical; and in every infliction of suffering and wrong upon Him by the hands of wicked men He felt the spirit of the acts--the sin of the world--going right down deep into His soul. Yes, thepainful pressure of the crown of thorns, the piercing of nails and the anguish of the body, were means through which He bore in Himself the contradiction of sinners and of sin. One point more: This endurance of the contradiction of sinners was out of consideration to them. He might have saved Himself, and have made them to feel His contradiction against themselves. But He suffered Himself, instead of making them to suffer. His consideration for them was grounded in love--love to them and to us. In love He endured seeing them the opposite of that which He could love; endured receiving from them the reverse of what He had a right to expect, the opposite of that which His coming had made possible. If He could have hated and despised those who contradicted Him, it would have been less painful to His spirit to endure the contradiction. But the more He loved us, the more bitter became every experience, the more pointed and painful every act of wrong. “Consider Him who endured,” etc., and consider Him, with this fact in mind, that in thus enduring He was exhibiting and putting forth His gracious power to save us from sinning against Him. The purpose of His Cross is to reconcile us and all things to Himself; to bring us to harmony of mind and life with Him; to destroy our contradiction by enduring it. (R. Vaughan, M. A.)

The great source of courage:

“Consider Him.” Learn to look up. It is an exercise in which we have to be trained and drilled until we have mastered it. Unbelief gives a man a crick in the neck so that he cannot look up. But faith, like the eagle, sets her eyes on the sun and soars away until earth is lost in the mists below, and she lights on the highest mount of God. If we would have a life of singing and triumphant courage, we must get into this habit--the heavenly habit of considering Jesus. “Consider Him.” This is everything. In the Christian life Christ Himself is the Source and Strength of all. A man is a Christian exactly as he receives Christ into his thought, and heart, and life. And this is the order, through the thought into the heart and thence into the life. Therefore consider Christ--gather the thoughts in from other things, and set them upon Christ. In everything that we would get hold of thoroughly we must give our minds to it, as we say. And this means give your mind to Christ. Christ is to us what we will let Him be. If I will let Him into my life, He will fill it with light and blessedness, as the sun fills the heavens. “Consider Him”--not the truth about Him. Lectures on botany are poor things to put in place of flowers. Sermons and teachings about Christ are poor things indeed to put in place of Him. It is more than ever needful in times like these, when life is such a rush and whirl, that we make room and leisure in our lives to cultivate this art of considering Christ. Alas! what hurried and passing glimpses of out” great Master do content us! There is a bit of the country--than which, I think, there is nothing more lovely in all England--that I have often passed through in the railway carriage; eagerly I have looked out of the window, over the deep valleys, woods overhanging woods, going down to misty depths, and away to the moorland, stretching up to the rugged heights; then suddenly a bank of earth has blotted it all out; a narrow cutting has hemmed us in--and then the tunnel darkness. Out again and across some viaduct; looking down on the clear stream amidst the boulders below, another glance of the hills, and then a new obstruction. And some people call that “ seeing the country.” How much can one consider it amid such vexatious glimpses? But some fine day I have left the railway station and stepped out on to the moor, and in a few moments have stood amidst its stillness, the great unbroken stretch of earth and sky, the music of some little brook and the plover’s call not breaking the silence, only heightening it. Then I have gone up on to the granite height, and there under the blue heaven I have looked away, away on every side, over the miles of country, catching here and there the faint, silvery line of the sea. Then and then only I saw it--thus I could consider it. We must get away alone up into the mount of the Lord if we would consider Him. The busier you are the more you need it: this thinking about Him until He comes to reveal Himself. With many bow would half an hour of such considering transform the life I He, my Lord and Captain, my Friend and Helper, my Deliverer and my God. (M. G. Pearse.)

Suffering and glory:

No pain, no palm; no thorn, no throne; no gall, no glory; no cross, no crown. (Wm. Penn.)

Consider Him:

Our troubles are but as the slivers and chips of His Cross. (J. Trapp.)

Christ with us in trial:

One thing which contributed to make Caesar’s soldiers invincible was their seeing him always take his share in danger, and never desire any exemption from labour and fatigue. We have a far higher incentive in the war for truth and goodness when we consider Him wire endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Considering Christ in persecution

Li Cha Mi, a Chinese preacher, was nearly killed by robbers during the excitement against foreigners, in 1872. At a subsequent conference, he said; “You have all heard of my sufferings during the past few months. I wish to say that these sufferings were very slight. It was easy to endure pain when I could feel that I bore it for Christ. It is wonderful--I cannot explain it. When attacked by the robbers, and beaten almost to death, I felt no pain. Their blows did not seem to hurt me at all. Everything was bright and glorious. Heaven seemed to open, and I thought I saw Jesus waiting to receive me. It was beautiful. I have no words to describe it. Since that time I seem to be a new man. I now know what it is to ‘love not the world.’ My affections are set on things above. Persecutions trouble me not. I forget all my sorrows when I think of Jesus.

I call nothing on earth my own. I find that times of trial are best for me. When all is quiet and prosperous, I grow careless and yield to temptation, but when persecutions come, then I fly to Christ. The fiercer the trial, the better it is for my soul.” (The Christian.)

Lest ye be wearied

Spiritual weariness

I. THERE IS A CONFLICT WHICH STILL DEMANDS OUR FAITH AND PATIENCE, The great purpose of life should be to attain the highest excellent of which our nature is susceptible. This involves difficulties.

II. WE ARE IN DANGER OF LOSING HEART, AND GROWING WEARY IN THIS CONFLICT. Perhaps we may hardly wonder at this, if we think of the nature of the conflict itself, its continuousness, its unintermittent character. This result ensues, too, from the providential trials under which we are sometimes called to carry on the conflict. This danger also arises from the perpetual vigilance and resistance which are required to be exercised against custom, against kindness, against the slumbrous atmosphere in which we live.

III. THIS WEARINESS AND FAILURE OF SPIRITUAL DETERMINATION IS AN EVIL WHICH OUGHT TO BE STRENUOUSLY RESISTED. Weariness and exhaustion are fatal to real enjoyment. They are equally fatal to work. When worn down by fatigue, you have neither strength nor spirit for work. Moreover, there must be much danger in this state of weariness and exhaustion.

IV. THE REST MEANS OF AVOIDING THIS WEARINESS AND SPIRITUAL EXHAUSTION IS STEADILY TO CONTEMPLATE JESUS. Look upon Him in such a way as to call out comparison with),ourselves, and it will encourage you, and enable you to rise above this exhaustion and fear.

1. The greatness and nobleness of the Sufferer!

2. Consider the poignancy and the severity of His suffering.

3. Consider the innocency of the Sufferer.

4. Consider the spirit in which Jesus suffered. (J. C. Harrison.)

Discouragements in the Christian life

I. MANY PERSONS ARE DISCOURAGED AT THE GREAT DIFFERENCE WHICH THEY EXPERIENCE IN THEIR FEELINGS, WHEN THEY RECEIVE INSTRUCTION FROM THE MINISTRATION OF OTHER PEOPLE’S MINDS, AND WHEN THEY ARE OBLIGED TO FURNISH THEMSELVES WITH THE TRUTH WHICH IS REQUIRED FOR THEIR DAILY CHRISTIAN LIFE.

II. MANY ARE LIABLE TO BECOME WEARIED AND FAINT FROM POSITIVE REACTION, FROM DEPRESSION ARISING FROM EXHAUSTION.

III. PERSONS OF A TIMID NATURE, WHOSE RELIGIOUS LIFE HAS, EITHER BY EDUCATION OR FROM SOMETHING IN THEMSELVES, TURNED UPON CONSCIENCE, OR IN WHOM THEIR RELIGIOUS LIFE IS OF THE TYPE OF CONSCIENCE RATHER THAN OF LOVE, OR TRUST, OR HOPE, ARE PECULIARLY LIABLE TO DISCOURAGEMENT AND WEARINESS.

IV. GREAT DISCOURAGEMENT BEFALLS MEN WHO HAVE A RELIGION WITHOUT ANY SOCIAL ELEMENT TO CORROBORATE IT.

V. MANY PERSONS ARE BROUGHT INTO GREAT DISCOURAGEMENT AND UNCERTAINTY AS TO WHAT THEY SHALL DO, BECAUSE THEY HAVE MISTAKEN THE FULL PURPORT OF RELIGION.

VI. THE NEGLECT TO CONSOLIDATE RELIGIOUS FEELINGS INTO HABITS IS FREQUENTLY AN OCCASION OF DISCOURAGEMENT, BECAUSE IT LEAVES MEN SUBJECT TO ALL THE FLUCTUATIONS OF FEELING.

VII. MANY ARE CONVICTED OF SIN LESS DEEPLY AT THE BEGINNING OF THEIR CHRISTIAN LIFE THAN LONG AFTER CONVERSION AND THIS NOT ONLY ALARMS, BUT SERIOUSLY DISCOURAGES THEM. (H. W. Beecher.)

Spiritual weariness and its antidote

I. THE LIABILITY OF CHRISTIANS TO SPIRITUAL WEARINESS. Arising from

1. The little advancement we seem to make in spiritual excellence.

2. The little good we seem to accomplish in all our efforts to serve our fellows.

3. The little difference which Providence in its dispensation makes between us and those who are the enemies of Christ.

4. The little influence which our best efforts seem to have in correcting the evils of our age.

II. THE ANTIDOTE OF CHRISTIANS TO SPIRITUAL WEARINESS. Reflection on Christ will renew our energies, reinvigorate the soul.

1. Consider what He endured. “The contradiction of sinners.”

2. Consider how He endured (1 Peter 2:23).

3. Consider why He endured. For His enemies. (Homilist.)

Liability of saints to faint-heartedness

It was stated some time ago, that a man had discovered an invention for making a form of crystallised carbon, which to all intents and purposes was a diamond; but his invention was useless, because of the difficulty and expense in getting any vessel strong enough to bear the intense heat to which it must be subjected during the process. And so with some of God’s saints, they faint beneath the trial, and the saintly virtue is not formed within their characters, because they have lost the power of endurance. (Canon Newbolt.)


Verse 4

Hebrews 12:4

Not yet resisted unto blood

The law of Christ’s service

I.
THE LAW OF CHRIST’S SERVICE. Resistance unto blood.

1. This law is not an arbitrary enactment. It is because the strife is against sin, and sin is an evil so terrible and tremendous that we are to resist unto blood.

2. Christianity is distinguished by its estimate of sin: the character it gives to sin. The darkest death man can die is preferable to sin’s power and penalty.

II. THE MOTIVE TO OBEDIENCE. Christ’s own example. The argument is, Others before you, and, specifically, Christ Himself, have obeyed this law, fulfilled it in their blood, “Ye have not yet.”

1. The law of Christ’s service is a law obeyed in lower spheres of action. Love of freedom, love of country, love of friends, have proved stronger often than love of life. The Roman soldier swore to keep his eagles to the last drop of his blood, and history shows how nobly the oath was kept. Almost every year our hearts are thrilled by the story of men of our own name who have held honour and duty more sacred and precious than life and home.

2. The law of Christ’s service has been obeyed by the good and noble of all ages.

3. Chief of all, the law of Christ’s service is a law obeyed by Christ Himself. (W. Perkins.)

Resisting unto blood

I. SIN IS IN THE WORLD AS THE GREAT ANTAGONIST OF MANKIND. It is opposed to intelligence, to freedom, to progress, to peace--personal, domestic, social, national, and universal. It is the inspiration of all our foes, the virus in all our sufferings, the fountain of all our sorrows, the burden of all our oppressions.

II. THIS GREAT ANTAGONIST DEMANDS THE MOST STRENUOUS RESISTANCE OF MANKIND.

1. Because the overcoming of this is the overcoming of all enemies.

2. Because it is only by the most strenuous human effort that it can be overcome.

3. Because our great moral Commander thus strove against sin. How much more should we!

Resisting unto blood

The Tabernacle was covered over with red, to note that we must defend the truth even to the effusion of blood. If we cannot endure martyrdom (if called thereunto) and sweat a bloody sweat for Christ’s sake, we cannot be comfortably assured that we are of His body. John Leafe, a young man, burnt with Mr. Bradford, hearing his own confession, taken before the bishop, read to him, instead of a pen took a pin, and so pricking his hand, sprinkled the blood upon the said bill of his confession, willing the messenger to show the bishop that he had sealed the same bill with his blood already. (John Trapp.)

Good standard-bearers

God wants standard-bearers who are willing to make a shroud of their colours. (J. Ker, D. D.)

The worst not yet experienced

The figure is changed; the Christian is a wrestler, a pugilist, struggling, fighting against sin; and the Jewish believers are told that up till now no “blood” has been drawn; that is, the fierce severity of the conflict had yet to come. They had no right, therefore, to give way, and no excuse for exhaustion. (R. W. Dale, LL. D.)

Striving against sin

Striving against sin

I. THE ENEMY AGAINST WHICH BELIEVERS STRIVE--Sin. The name of it is short and easily pronounced, but who shall fully declare its dreadful nature?

1. It is an old enemy. Hence in Scripture it is styled the Old Man. It is old, for it existed in us as soon as we began to exist. But it is much older than we are. It appeared in the world almost as soon as it was created--nearly six thousand years ago. Nay, sin is older even than this, for it appeared even in heaven, and ruined myriads of celestial intelligences. It is no new upstart power, then, that believers have to strive against, but a veteran foe long inured to the warfare, and possessing the accumulated experience of innumerable ages.

2. Sin is an enemy that is always near. When driven, as it is in the case of every believer, from the throne of the heart, it is not entirely dislodged from the soul. It still lives and lurks in the nature of believers.

3. Sin is a crafty and deceitful enemy. Its wiles and cunning devices to seduce men, and lead them to the commission of crimes, are innumerable.

4. Sin is an active enemy. It is unwearied in its exertions to extend its influence. It pollutes all we do, and mingles with all we are. As the heart never ceases from beating, nor the blood from circulating, so sin never ceases from operating. We may sleep, but it never sleeps.

5. Sin is a powerful enemy. We read of “the body of sin,” which implies its strength and vigour. Its “motions do work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death.” It often bursts through the strongest resolutions set up to restrain it, as a swollen river beats down its banks and sweeps away everything before it. You may see its strength by looking at the conduct of some of those in whom it reigns. Into what awful lengths in wickedness does it carry them!

II. THE NATURE OF THE CONFLICT ON STRIFE AGAINST SIN.

1. It is universal. It is directed against all sin. It is against secret sins as well as against open--against sins of the temper as well as against those of the tongue--against sins of the heart as well as against those of the life--and chiefly against sins of the heart, because from them proceed those of the life.

2. It is often a painful conflict. In piercing sin, the believer often feels a sword pierce his own heart. Sin can never be slain in him without his experiencing to some extent its dying agonies.

3. It is a constant and persevering conflict. There is no discharge in this war. It is a war of extermination.

4. This conflict is carried on in the Saviour’s strength. In their own strength believers could never carry the strife on.

5. This conflict is maintained by prayer. “When I cry unto Thee,” said the Psalmist, “then shall mine enemies turn back: this I know, for God is with me.” “In the day that I cried unto Thee, Thou answeredst me, and strengthenedst me with strength in my soul.”

6. This conflict is to be carried on with constant watchfulness, Prayer without watchfulness is almost a mockery of God, since in it blessings are solicited, for the attainment of which no care is exercised.

III. SOME OF THE MEANS BY WHICH BELIEVERS SHOULD STRIVE AGAINST SIN.

1. Let them seriously think how hateful and abominable sin is to God. Abominable and offensive as outward sins are to Him, indwelling corruption must be even still more so, for it is the source whence all these proceed.

2. They should check the first motions and workings of sin in their souls. They should give no quarter to criminal thoughts, or evil desires, or unholy inclinations, but endeavour, through the strength of grace, to banish and crush them. By such constant endeavours to strike at the root, indwelling sin will be weakened and its power and strength reduced and kept under.

3. They should carefully avoid temptations to sin.

4. They should do all in their power to preserve and promote sanctified frames of mind when these are experienced.

5. They should be often engaged in prayer.

6. They must, if they would be successful in striving against sin, strive against Satan. Sin is just the Old Serpent’s poison.

IV. SOME MOTIVES FOR STRIVING AGAINST SIN.

1. This is a strife or warfare which every Christian must maintain. The most shining saint has sin in him. He is only “fair as the moon,” and will never find his principles of holiness brightened with a sunlight lustre, until he enters the kingdom of his heavenly Father.

2. In this strife and warfare the Saviour’s honour is much concerned. Sin disgraces a religious profession.

3. You should strive against sin, for it offends God, and is the object of His infinite abhorrence. It cannot be otherwise, for it is enmity against Him, against His attributes, and against His government. It abuses His goodness, abhors His holiness, despises His love, vilifies His wisdom, denies His justice, defies His power, violates His law, and, if it could, would pluck Him from His throne, and deprive Him of His Being.

4. We should strive against sin, for it is seeking our own ruin. It is a foe, and not a friend. The man who cherishes sin cherishes a viper in his bosom, which will, unless timeously cast from him, turn and sting him to death.

5. Consider the reward they shall receive who truly, and believingly, and preservingly strive against sin. There is a reward for the righteous even now. Their striving against sin tends to their true comfort and enjoyment while here.

V. IMPROVEMENT.

1. Examine yourselves by what you have heard that you may ascertain what is your true state and character. These will turn upon your bearing in relation to sin.

2. While you strive against sin yourselves you should also strive against it in others.

3. Beware of that strife which is sinful. There is such a thing as not only sinful striving, but a sinful striving against sin. O how much of the contention about religious matters, both in doctrine and practice, may be thus characterised! Let, then, all such striving be avoided. “The wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.”

4. Strive with God. There is a striving with God which is unlawful and destructive, but there is a striving with Him which is allowable and necessary. It is by prayer and supplication.

5. Strive to enter in at the strait gate; the gate, that is, of conversion, faith, “rod repentance. Without engaging in the strife there can be no admission into heaven. (G. Brown.)

Striving against sin

I. How we are to strive against sin.

1. By constantly opposing the power of sin in our own hearts.

2. By a steadfast and constant profession of the Christian faith.

3. By a humble and holy dependence on the atonement of Jesus Christ, and a growing acquaintance with Scripture.

4. By directly and openly condemning it, whenever and by whomsoever it is committed.

II. WHY we should thus strive against sin.

1. Because of its destructive and fatal designs upon our best interests.

2. Because it is the greatest evil that can curse society.

3. Because it will cause us satisfaction in the review when we approach the world of spirits. There is no alternative between striving against and striving for it. Those who are at peace with sin now will find death at war with them. (D. Jones.)

How to strive against sin

1. By prayer. Let us pray against anger, pride, uncleanness, coveteousness, continually.

2. By Scripture.

3. By the subtracting of the nourishment of that sin. Let us strive against lust and uncleanness by a sober and temperate life.

4. By embracing the contrary virtue. Instead of pride let us embrace humility; instead of covetousness, liberality; of uncleanness, chastity, &c. (W. Jones,. D. D.)

Striving against sin:

The Red Indian will stand to have his flesh cut away by the knives of his enemies, and will not utter a sigh or groan--will not sue for mercy. Such is the fortitude of that iron will. If the pride of his heart enables him to bear such tortures without murmuring, surely the power of Christian motive is sufficient to cause us to pluck out the right eye, and cut off the right-hand sin, and cast them away from us, that we may present ourselves a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God. In Christ crucified we see the abhorrence with which God regards sin. And when He brings us into communion with Himself in the Cross we shun it, or resist it, as our most deadly foe.

Striving against fierce sin:

Where are the heroes “ who resist unto blood striving against sin”? Should we weep or laugh at the foolishness of mankind, childishly spending their indignation and force against petty evils, and maintaining a friendly peace with the fell and mighty principle of destruction. It is just as if men of professed courage, employed to go and find and destroy a tiger or a crocodile that has spread alarm or havoc, on being asked at their return, “Have you done the deed?” should reply, “We have not indeed destroyed the tiger or crocodile, but yet we have acted heroically; we have achieved something great--we have killed a wasp.” Or, like men engaged to exterminate a den of murderers, who being asked at their return, “Have you accomplished the vengeance?” should say, “We have not destroyed any of the murderers; we did not deem it worth while to attempt it; but we have lamed one of their dogs.” (J. Foster.)

Not to be discouraged by violent conflict:

Whoever wishes to obtain the victory must not be discouraged by violent opposition. It is reported of Alexander, that when surrounded by his enemies, and sorely wounded, he still maintained his fortitude, and fought upon his knees. Sparticus did the same, covering himself with his buckler in one hand, and using his sword with the other. So the Christian, however wounded, must still persevere, fighting to the end the good tight of faith, that he may lay hold on eternal life.


Verse 5-6

Hebrews 12:5-6

Despise not thou the chastening of the Lord

How to bear afflictions

The proposition that ariseth from the words is this: It is the duty and best wisdom of afflicted Christians to preserve themselves from the vicious extremes of despising the Schastenings of the Lord, or fainting under them.

I. To “DESPISE THE CHASTENINGS OF THE LORD,” imports the “making no account of them,” as unworthy of serious regard, and includes inconsiderateness of mind, and an insensibleness of heart.

1. Inconsiderateness of mind with respect to the Author or end of chastenings.

2. Insensibility of heart is an eminent degree of despising the Lord’s chastenings. A pensive feeling of judgments is very congruous, whether we consider them either materially as afflictive to nature, or as the signs of Divine displeasure”: for the affections were planted in the human nature by the hand of God Himself, and are duly exercised in proportion to the quality of their objects; and when grace comes, it softens the breast, and gives a quick and tender sense of God’s frown.

II. THE CAUSES OF THE DESPISING OF GOD’S CHASTENINGS.

1. A contracted stupidity of soul, proceeding from a course in sin.

2. Carnal diversions. The pleasures and cares of the world, as they render men inapprehensive of judgments to come, so regardless of those that are present (Luke 21:34).

3. An obstinate fierceness of spirit, a diabolical fortitude. Their hearts are of an anvil-temper, made harder by afflictions, and reverberate the blow; like that Roman emperor, who, instead of humbling and reforming at God’s voice in thunder, thundered back again.

III. I shall proceed to consider the other extreme, of FAINTING UNDER GOD’S REBUKES.

1. The original word signifies “the slackening and relaxing of things that were firmly joined together.”

2. It may respect the sinking and falling away of the soul like water, being hopeless of overcoming troubles. When water is frozen into hard ice it will bear a great burden; but when it is melted, nothing is weaker: so the spirit of a man, confirmed by religious principles, is able to sustain all his infirmities (Proverbs 18:14).

3. The causes of this despondency are usually

IV. TO PROVE THAT IT IS THE DUTY AND WISDOM OF THE AFFLICTED NOT TO DESPISE THE CHASTENINGS OF THE LORD, NOR TO FAINT UNDER THEM.

1. It is their duty carefully to avoid those extremes, because they are very dishonourable to God.

2. It is the best wisdom not to despise God’s chastenings, nor faint under them.

(a) It provokes God to withdraw His judgments for a time. This the sinner desired, and thinks himself happy that he is at ease. Miserable delusion l This respite is the presage of his final ruin.

(b) The slighting of lighter strokes provokes God sometimes to bring more dreadful judgments in this life upon sinners. No man can endure that his love or anger should be despised.

(3) Faintings under chastenings is pernicious to sufferers.

(a) It renders them utterly indisposed for the performance of duty. He that is hopeless of a good issue out of troubles, will neither ‘repent nor pray nor reform, but indulges barren tears instead of real duties. Besides, it often falls out, that the same affliction is sent from God’s displeasure upon His people for their sins, and is the effect of the rage of men against them upon the account of their professing His name.

(b) They are incapable of the comforts proper to an afflicted state. Those arise from the apprehension that God loves whom lie chastens Revelation 3:19); for the least sin is a greater evil than the greatest trouble, and His design is to take that away; and from the expectation of a happy issue. Hope is the anchor within the veil, that in the midst of storms and the roughest seas preserves from shipwreck. USE. The use shall be to excite us to those duties that are directly contrary to the extremes forbidden; namely, to demean ourselves under the chastenings of the Lord with a deep reverence and humble fear of His displeasure, and with a firm hope and dependence upon Him for a blessed issue upon our complying with His holy will.

USE

I. With a humble reverence of His hand. This temper is absolutely necessary and most congruous with respect to God, upon the account of His sovereignty, justice, and goodness, declared in His chastenings; and with respect to our frailty, our dependence upon Him, our obnoxiousness to His law, and our obligations to Him that He will please to afflict us for our good.

USE

II. Let us always preserve a humble dependence and firm hope on God for a blessed issue out of all our troubles.

1. The relation God sustains when He afflicts believers. He is a Judge invested with the quality of a Father.

2. It is a strong cordial against fainting to consider that, by virtue of the paternal relation, “He scourgeth every son whom He receiveth.” For no troubles are more afflictive and stinging than those that are unexpected. Now when we are assured that there is no son whom the Father doth not chasten, we are less surprised and less troubled when we meet with crosses.

3. The apostle represents the special prerogative of God as “ the Father of spirits” (verse 9). As a prudent physician consults the strength of the patient as well as the quality of the disease, and proportions his medicine; so all the bitter ingredients, their mixture and measure, are dispensed by the wise prescription of God, according to the degrees of strength that are in His people.

4. The apostle specifies the immediate end of God in His chastenings. God is pleased to fashion us according to His image by afflictions, as a statue is cut by the artificer, to bring it into a beautiful form. He is pleased to bring us into divers temptations to try our faith, to work in us patience, to inflame our prayers, to mortify our carnal desires, to break those voluntary hands whereby we are fettered to the earth, &c. (Wm. Bates, D. D.)

The Lord’s chastening

I. DESPISE NOT THOU THE CHASTENING OF THE LORD. YOU are guilty of this

1. When you shut your eyes to the Author of your affliction. Everything that takes place in the whole universe comes to pass either by His direct appointment, or by His equally direct permission.

2. When you inquire not the cause of your affliction. God “does not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men.” If therefore He sends chastisement upon you there must be some adequate cause, which you are bound to search out and discover.

3. When you resist the design of your affliction. You have long, perhaps, been convinced that you ought to forsake sin, and turn wholly to the Lord. But sin has still kept its hold on you; and you have resisted the conviction of your conscience. At length, then, God interrupts your comforts-pours contempt upon your idols; or He comes even closer--chastises you with bodily sickness, sorrow, and pain.

II. FAINT NOT WHEN THOU ART REBUKED OF HIM.

1. Although God be the Author of your sorrows, it is as a Father that He sends them. All is not against you. Your heavenly Father is for you, and, if you trust Him, will make these “light afflictions, which are but for a moment, work out for you a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.”

2. Although sin be the cause of year sorrows, yet those sorrows are not the special penalty of sin. They may distress and scorch you, but you are not “ tormented in this flame.” Earth is not hell! Your Father is correcting you rather than punishing you.

3. Although conversion be the design of your sorrows, yet, it, was never intended that these should be, the only meads used by the Lord; and that you should be left, to do all the rest. The very expression, “when thou art, rebuked,” implies that other methods are also employed. He gives “grace for grace”--a Saviour to pardon-a Spirit to heal--promises to encourage and save your soul. (J. Jowett, M. A.)

Chastisement;

There are two dangers against which a person under the chastising hand of God should always be very careful to keep a careful look out. The one is despising the rod, and the other is fainting under it. We will begin with the first; “My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord.”

I. THIS MAY BE DONE IN FIVE WAYS AND IN DISCUSSING THE SUBJECT I SHALL PROPOSE THE REMEDY FOR EACH OF THESE AS WE PASS ALONG.

1. A man may despise the chastening of the Lord when he mumurs at it. Ephraim is like a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke; when a son of God first feels the rod he is like a bullock--he kicks at it, he cannot bear it. A want of resignation shows that we despise God’s chastening hand. A word with thee, O murmurer! Why shouldst thou murmur against the dispensations of thy heavenly Father? Hast thou not read that amongst the Roman emperors of old it was the custom when they would set a slave at liberty, to give him a blow upon the head and then say, “Go free”? This blow which thy Father gives thee is a token of thy liberty, and dost thou grumble because tie smites thee rather hardly? After all, are not Ills strokes fewer than thy crimes, and lighter than thy guilt?

2. We despise the chastening of the Lord when we say there is no use in it. It is always a providence when it is a good thing. But why is it not a providence when it does not happen to be just as we please? Surely it is so; for if the one thing be ordered by God, so is the other. It is written, “I create light and I create darkness, I create good and I make evil. I, the Lord, do all these things.” But I question whether that is not despising the chastening of the Lord when we set a prosperous providence before an adverse one; for I do think theft an adverse providence ought to be the cause of as much thankfulness as a prosperous one.

3. There is a third way in which men despise the chastening of the Lord, that is--we may think it dishouourable to be chastened by God. How many men have thought it dishonourable to be persecuted for righteousness sake! But, my son, thou dost not weigh the blessing rightly. I tell thee it is the glory of a man to be chastened for God’s sake. Now you who faint under a little trouble, and despise the chastening of the Lord, let me encourage you in this way. My son, despise not the persecution. Remember how many men have borne it. What an honour it is to suffer for Christ’s sake! because the crown of martyrdom has been worn by many heads better than thine.

4. Again, in the fourth place, we despise the chastening of the Lord when we do not earnestly seek to amend by it. Many a man has been corrected by God, and that correction has been in vain. Take heed if God is trying you, theft you search and find out the reason. Are the consolations of God small with you? Then there is some reason for it. I have sometimes walked a mile or two, almost limping along, because there was a stone in my shoe, and I did not stop to look for it. And many a Christian goes limping for years because of the stones in his shoe, but if he would only stop to look at them, he would be relieved. What is the sin that is causing you pain? Get it out, and take away the sin, for if you do not, you have not regarded this admonition which speaketh unto you as unto sons--“My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord”

5. Once more: we despise the chastening of the Lord when we despise those that God chastens.

II. The second evil is this: “NOR FAINT WHEN THOU ART REBUKED OF HIM.”

1. The first way of fainting is when we give up all exertion under the rod.

2. Again, the man faints when he doubts whether he is a child of God under chastisement. Remember the passage: “If we be not partakers of chastisement then are we bastards, and not sons.” Say not He has forgotten thee, but look upon thy trial as a proof of His love. Cecil once called on his friend Williams, and the servant said he could not see him because he was in great trouble, “Then I would rather see him,” said Cecil; and Williams, hearing it was his old pastor, said, “Show him up.” Up he went, and there stood poor Williams, his eyes suffused with tears, his heart almost broken, his dear child was dying: “Thank God,” said Cecil; “ 1 have been anxious about you for some time; you have been so prosperous and successful in everything that I was afraid my Father bad forgotten you; but I know He recollects you now. I do not wish to see your child full of pain and dying; but I am glad to think my Father has not forgotten you.” Three weeks after that Williams could see the truth of it, though it seemed a harsh saying at first.

3. Again, many persons faint by fancying that they shall never get out of their trouble. “Three long months,” says one, “have I striven against this sad trouble which overwhelms me, and I have been unable to escape it.” “For this year,” says another, “I have wrestled with God in prayer that He would deliver me out of this whirlpool but deliverance has never come, and I am almost inclined to give the matter up. I thought He kept His promises, and would deliver those who called upon Him, but He has not delivered me now, and He never will.” What! child of God, talk thus of thy Father! say He will never leave off smiting because He has smitten thee so long? Rather say, “He must have smitten me long enough now, and I shall soon have deliverance.” Say not thou canst escape. The fetters on thy hands may not be broken by thy feeble fingers, but the hammer of the Almighty can break them in a moment. Let them be laid on the anvil of Providence and be smitten by the hand of Omnipotence, and then they shall be scattered to the winds. Up, man! up. Like Samson, grasp the pillars of thy troubles and pull down the house of thine affliction about the heads of thy sins, and thou thyself shalt come out more than conqueror. Let me ask those who are afflicted and have no religion, where they get their comfort from. The Christian derives it from the fact that he is a son of God, and he knows that the affliction is for his good. But what does the worldling do when he loses his wife, when his children are taken away, when his health departs and he himself is nigh unto death? I leave him to answer. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The aim of Divine chastisement

Whom He loves, He loves so much that He will not let them abide in the lower parts of their nature. He will rout them out; He will drive them up. Whom He loves He means to make more of. He means to ennoble them. A king ennobles a man by putting a crown on his head: but God ennobles men by putting dispositions in their hearts. Whom He loves He chastens and scourges. That is very severe. A man may be chastised with small whips, but no man is scourged except with cord, laid on with soldiers’ hands. It is a horrible operation. God both chastens and scourges men, and all because He loves them. Wonderful love that is! and yet it is just your love. You have not a child whose body is worth more to you than his mind. No child of yours ever told a lie under circumstances of great baseness, that you did not feel rising against him an utter indignation, not because you hated the child, but because you loved him. All your identification with the child pleads for punishment. You said, “It is my child, and he is not worthy of me; and he shall be worthy of me.” As I was reading, “For they”--that is, our parents--“verily, for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure.” Great pleasure they had in it, if they felt as I did! I would rather be whipped any time than whip my children. And when my father used to say, “Henry, I do not want to do it,” I used to say to myself, “What under heaven do you do it for then?” I did not want to be whipped; and if he did not want to whip me, it seemed to me a very unnecessary ceremony! But when I became a father, I felt that nothing in the world was more true. When I had children to bring up, they so far inherited my nature that they deserved to be whipped often, and they got their deserts! It was true that I would rather have taken five blows than to have given one; and yet I put it on to them. And I remembered the precept, “What your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.” Do not you know what that is? Are you not familiar with both sides of the experience? Paul says, “We have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence; shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but He”--God--“for our profit, that we might be partakers of His holiness. Here is the end that God is driving at continually, by such a grand sympathy, by such a tender personal connection with us, by such a constant interference and meddling with all that belongs to us, that we shall not be thralled in lusts and the lower parts of our nature, and depart from His will, and inherit the final remuneration; but that we shall escape, and go up and be made partakers of the Divine nature. (H. W. Beecher.)

Faint not when rebuked

1. To “faint” when we as “ rebuked” is to lose self-possession, or to be so overwrought, or overwhelmed with the trial, that we grow insensible to its nature, its extent, its punishment.

2. To “faint” when we are “rebuked” is under the pressure of the sorrow, to relax any duty--for praise or love--and especially to let go our holy confidences, and to take the eye off Jesus.

3. To “faint” when we are “rebuked” is to grow weary on account of its length, and not to let “ patience have her perfect work.” (J. Vaughan, M. A.)

Submission under loss:

When John Flavel lost his wife and child in one day--root and branch cut off together--he acknowledged the bitterness of the cup, but said there was not a drop of injustice in it. Under the severest losses the Marquis de Renty was wont to go to his chamber, and drop on his knees to thank God that not his own but the Lord’s will was done.

Submission:

Stonewall Jackson was once asked, “Suppose that these unprofitable eyes of yours, that give you so much trouble, should become suddenly blind, do you believe your serenity would remain unclouded?” He paused a moment, as if to weigh fully the exact measure of every word he uttered, and then said: “I am sure of it; even such a misfortune could not make me doubt the love of God.” Still further to test him it was urged: “Conceive, then, that besides your hopeless blindness, you were condemned to be bedridden, and racked with pain for life; you would hardly call yourself happy then?” There was again the same deliberateness before he replied: “Yes, I think I could; my faith in the Almighty wisdom is absolute: and why should this accident change it?” Touching him upon a tender point--his impatience of anything bordering on every species of dependence--the test was pushed further. “But if in addition to blindness and incurable infirmity and pain you had to receive grudging charity from those on whom you had no claim, what then?” There was a strange reverence in his lifted eye, and an exalted expression over his whole face, as he replied with slow deliberateness: “If it was God’s will, I think I could lie there content a hundred years!” (H. O. Mackey.)

Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth

Suffering, the gift and presence of God:

This, then, is the first, most comprehensive, yet most special way, in which God is the consolation of the afflicted, that He has revealed, that sorrow is a token of His love. We have often thought perhaps, “If God did but tell me that He loves me!” If He has sent you sorrow or pain, He has told you that He loves you.

Suffering is in the order of our salvation; it is in order to our salvation. In the mercy of our God, it arrests the sinner; it deepens the loving sorrow of the penitent; it proves and advances the all-but-perfected. It exhibits us to ourselves; it enhances the love of our Redeemer; it is God’s instrument to make us of one mind with Himself. This, then, is the great comprehensive comfort in every ache of mind or body, that we know infallibly from God’s infallible Word that it is a token of His love. Be it disease or loss of bodily health or strength, or of clearness of intellect, the consequence of sin; be it the shame with which God “ filleth the face that they may seek Thy Face, O God”; be it the first terror of hell, which, by God’s grace, scares the yet unconverted sinner towards the wide-open arms of Jesus on the Cross, or the last sharp pang of death, which lets the imprisoned soul go free, to meet its God for whom it yearned and fainted, we know, by God’s own Word, it is His love. Yet it is not only love, working through some fixed or some general rule of His Providence. It is something far nearer, more tender, more blessed. It is God’s own personal act. It is our Redeemer’s own medicinal hand. “I have afflicted thee.” “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten.” “Happy is the man whom God correcteth.” “Blessed is the man whom Thou chastenest, O Lord, and teachest him out of Thy law.” This is the deep reassuring truth, that it is not man’s caprice, nor a fixed iron law, nor a combination of events, but our own God. This is the deep inward peace in every trial, that He orders each particular blow or weight of sorrow, or fretting care, or harassing discomfort or unrest, in His all-wise love, fitting each trial to our own particular temperament. He gives to each of us just our own trial, what, by His grace, will most amend us, what will bring us most to Himself, what will most draw out the good which He has implanted in us, or burn out the evil which would most estrange or ruin us. This too is not all. It is not an all-wise God, unseen, unfelt, at a distance, guiding all things in perfect wisdom for the good of each individual creature which He had made. Great were this, yea, in one sense, all; for it is His individual, infinite, personal love. He who loves us infinitely loves us individually. But this too not afar off, not only in the heaven of heavens (Psalms 91:15). Trouble is the special presence of God to the Isaiah 43:2). He who, present with them, soothed to the three youths the flames of fire, so that they fanned softly around them, and were to them an unharming robe of glory; He who, ever-present with His disciples, then appeared to them, when the storm was at its highest, and its waves were boisterous; He, still present to the soul, now soothes to His own the fire of affliction, that, while it burns out the dross, it should not touch the soul, but should yield it pure, transfigured and translucent with the fire of love. He who baptizes with a baptism of blood, holds His own, that, although immersed and sunk deep down, the waters should not come in to the very soul itself, but should only wash away its stains through His most precious blood. Can there be more yet than the presence of God with the soul? Yes, the end of the presence is more to the soul itself than that presence itself. For it is the earnest of His abiding presence, yea, of union with God. Suffering, the due reward of our deeds, becomes, by His mercy, the means of conforming us to the Son of His love. While we suffer for our own sins, and bear about us less than their deserved chastisements, God gives us yet an outward likeness to His Cross, in that it is suffering. For “ on Him were laid the iniquities of us all.” But we still hang, as it were, by His side; His healing compassionate look falls upon us; from His all-holy sufferings there goeth forth virtue to sanctify ours. Hence is deserved suffering by God’s mercy such a token of predestination, that it brings us near to, makes us partakers of, the sufferings of Christ. (E. B.Pusey, D. D.)

The mystery of suffering:

This, after its sort, is a kind of philosophy, a phenomenon of human experience. Everything in nature, according to the measure of its power, is happier than man. Men have been studying how to create happiness that should be unbroken in this world. They have invented a great many things, found out a great many medicines, but happiness has eluded their search. A steady flow of happiness, a soul that knows how to keep time as that watch knows how to keep time, has never been born, and does not live. We flit between light and dark blow, happiness is certainly, we may believe, the final end of creation. Whatsoever maketh a lie or causeth offence in the grand land of consummation will have been purged out, and happiness without alloy will yet be the end of every true life that by sorrow and suffering has been wrought out into the full possession of its birthright. The process or education of man in this world proceeds on the law of suffering--happiness the graduating point; suffering the academy, the seminary; and the best teachers are the teachers that inflict suffering on man. Clear down to the last vision they are highest that have been most suffering in the great school of this life. It is the law of education. Why it was made so, if you know, please instruct me. Why did God make things thus and so? Why did He make the law of suffering the law of education, rather than the law of happiness? This why pours into the gulf of ignorance. We don’t know. We are ignorant in proportion as we go back to the beginnings of things. These are secrets that no science will penetrate; at any rate, not for ages yet; these lie hidden in the bosom of God. But Christ is the type of the moral kingdom of God. It was necessary to make the Captain of their salvation perfect through suffering, because He was leading the multitude, the whole world’s population, towards elevation through suffering, and He entered Himself under that august law of the universe, suffering. It is a badge of discipleship--suffering is. Men do not come to the fulness of their relation to God except through it. Now, look at the scale of suffering. The first is physical pain, which is the lowest; it is cautionary. The remembrance of it prevents a man violating some natural law; that is, some law that has its seat in the physical structure of the man’s own body. It teaches men patience; it teaches men to bear valiantly. Cheerfulness under physical suffering is a wonderful victory, repining is a defeat. If a man shirks down, if he sneaks into complaints and all forms of bewilderment, and dissipated faith, he is wretched indeed, and there is no moral end gained under such circumstances. Then, aside from the suffering which comes to us through our bodily organs, there is that suffering which comes to us through the law of evolution in ourselves. The law of conflict between the lower man and the higher man, or, as St. Paul phrases it, between the flesh man and the spirit man.” If, in unfolding ourselves from childhood to manhood, the process goes on by which we subdue the animal that is in us, and the passions that belong to it, by the ascendency of higher social, moral and intellectual inspirations, then suffering is more immediately and perceptibly a schoolmaster. Men are driven up higher and higher towards the citadel of God, by the sufferings which take place in the conflict between the lower and the higher man. Living largely in the West in my early life, I had the opportunity of beholding phenomena that are good illustrations. When the great western rivers were suddenly swollen, and booming freshets came tearing down, flooding the country on either side, I have seen the river Ohio, that was not a quarter of a mile wide, ten miles wide in the flood. Nothing is more familiar to the settlers than the fact that the animals are all driven from the lower places, and frequently it is the case that they mount to some round hill and the water following surrounds it, and they are imprisoned on that hill. But they still go higher up, and higher up, and higher up, until they get a place that is a refuge. Suffering that teaches an animal to go up ought to teach a man to go up. Then suffering is still on another level, where we suffer by our social relations, where we suffer with and for each other, and here is the beginning of the grandeur of the kingdom of suffering. Vicarious suffering then, I may say at last, is the law of the universe. Christ entered into the world to partake of those very things that the race have passed through, “Tempted in all points like as we are,” tried into all points as we are; and as it is the law of social connection that one shall suffer for another, Christ suffered for men under the same great grand law of vicarious suffering. That is a wretched child, that is a wretched man, who has no one to suffer for him. Then, higher than this, or rather more extended in its relation, is the suffering which men have in civic relations. Men are not individuals. Man is a collective animal; every man stands on his own stem, but he also stands on the trunk which holds up a million stems, and if anything afflicts the root it afflicts everything at the top. Although blossom is not identical with blossom, nor fruit with fruit, human life is made up of individualisms; but collected and made into one great organisation. And so men must suffer when society suffers. Then, next and yet higher, men suffer on account of their moral relations that unite them to man and to God and to the universe. The progress of knowledge is through suffering. One man suffers, and leaves a glow of new truth behind him, which irradiates the whole of a generation. Thus far we can see and understand. But the world is the workshop of heaven. There we shall see the consummation of that which we see but feebly and understand but partially. Many there are on earth who see no outcome; they are underfoot, they are out of place; suffering seems not only to bring to them no relief and no inspiration, but it seems never to have declared its real nature to their surroundings or to their generations. Oh I there will be a land where these things will be known; there will be an interpretation to every pang and to every tear, and to every crushing sorrow; and as for those who suffer for a noble cause, who suffer for children, who suffer for those who have no parents, who suffer for the community, though they are accounted unworthy, and are east out by the community, though they be crushed out of life and hope, and go mourning all the days of their lives, there is a reckoning--that is to say, there is to be an unfolding of the reasons of their suffering, and the results of it which do not by any means all appear upon this mortal sphere and in this limited life--it is to be made known. You do not know what is going on, you do not know all the meaning of your sorrow; God does. Do you suppose that the wool on the sheep’s back knows what it is coming to when it is sheared? When it was scoured, and washed, and spun, and twisted of its life almost; when it went into the hateful bath of colour; when it was put into the shuttle, and was thrust back and forth, back and forth, in the darkness, and out came the royal robe, it did not know what it started for; yet that is what it comes to--kings wear it. The flax in the field sighs to be made into the garment of the saints. All right. Pluck it up; rot it, put it under the brick, thread it, weave it, bleach it, purify it; and the saints may wear it now. It came to honour and glory through much suffering. Suffering is God’s guardian guiding angel to those that will; it takes them up through the gate of trouble and trial to that land of perfectness and of everlasting peace. And you do not know what your suffering means? Yet you may rejoice in the general fact that somehow or other it is going to make you glorious if you are only worthy of it. Allow me still one more figure; for some may take one figure easily and some another. When this organ was built the lead and the zinc did not know what the men were about when they were melting them, and making them into pipes, and when the work was distributed through the different shops among different hands. Here you have the sesquialtera and the mixture--hideous stops unless they are masked or hidden under a great weight of sound. If you tried them in the factory you would run out with your fingers in your ears, and cry, “Lord deliver me from that sort of music! “ Then there are the flute stops, and the diapasons in their grand under tones. With all the different parts of the organ separately made, unconnected, nobody can tell what is coming except an experienced workman; but by-and-by, little by little, the frame is erected, the stops are all arranged and in connection with the wind-chest, and now that it is an organic whole every part plays into every other part. As a whole it is magnificent; but the separate steps were poor and weak and unsatisfactory. God makes stops on earth, but He builds the organ in heaven; and many a man will never know till he comes there what was the reason of that providence by which he was trained and fitted to be of that great band of music in the heavenly home. Thus far illustrated and explained the subject will give rise to some applications. And, first, no man should hunt after suffering any more than a man should hunt after sickness. Do not regard suffering as if it were in and of itself a means of grace. If it makes you better it will come of itself. Secondly, lower animal suffering is penalty for sin; but, going up the scale, it is not punishment, but the other way. Men suffer because they are so good; they are the vicarious sufferers for those who are not good, through sympathy, through pity, through endeavour to help them, through self-repression for the development of those that are round about. I have but one more thought, and that is final--not alone in this sermon, but final in creation. No imagination can conceive the wonder, the ecstasy, of the great hour of finding out. When we have borne our body, borne our allotted suffering and pain, borne our obscurity and our persecution, borne all the troubles that go to the making of manhood in this life, unrecognised, not rated according to our moral value, rated according to the law of selfishness in human society, when at last emancipated the pauper from the poorhouse, the debtor from the prison, the broken-down man in business, who has been living on the crusts of his former prosperity, mothers, nurses, servants, whose souls were greater than their places, when at last they shall come and stand in the light of the eternal heavens--oh, what a surprise, and oh, what a dismay, when the last tumble from their heights of imagined greatness, when the first shall be last, and the last first! But oh! when the suffering is all gone, and we come to find ourselves, and come to find that the work of life, racking, filing, sawing in various violent ways upon us, has made us perfect, and we stand in the light of the other life, to see the meaning of all that has taken place in our obscure life--oh, what an hour of joy and of consolation! (H. W. Beecher.)

The ministry of sorrow:

There is no fact in human life more certain than universality of suffering, and there is, perhaps, nothing for which man finds a greater difficulty to discover an adequate or satisfactory reason. The Bible does not solve the difficulty. The Bible deals with the subject practically, and only practically. The Bible never satisfies your speculative inquiry. No question is solved by the Book so as to answer everything that you can ask. It is only solved so that yon can live as faithful servants of the Eternal One. And the Bible shows us the relation of suffering to sin. But, finally, it bids us fall back upon God. He will do right, He will make all well, He is the great consoler of man. These are the three facts that lie in this text of ours: sorrow, discipline, love.

I. THE ACCEPTANCE OF GOD’S MERCY DOES NOT ASSURE THE BELIEVER FROM THE LOT OF THE SUFFERER. It is perfectly true we may promise to him who accepts the gospel much joy and much pleasure. For a man to place himself in harmony with the Divine law; for him to say, “No longer my will but Thine be done”; for him to seek no more his ends but the Divine ends; he will find therein the peace, the calm, the quiet restfulness, enter his spirit, and will give him infinite delight. Now, this is true; but at the same time the believer will not be exempt from the conditions of distress. They will come. Natural griefs will be yours. The imperfections of his own character will distress him; the ideal that we sometimes set before us, and then the real that is ours; the picture that we would paint, and the unhappy daub that is often the result of our best endeavour; the beautiful garments that we would set upon ourselves--the garments of righteousness and glory--richer and brighter than the garments that the angels wear--and then the poor tattered rags of the righteousness that we have lost, and the smear and smirch of the secular wrong or the sensual vice into which we have fallen. Oh the disappointment through which life seems to pass until it shall reach the blessed consummation which you hope for! I promise you blessedness, infinite blessedness; but the sorrows will conic.

II. THE SUFFERINGS OF THE BELIEVER ARE INTENDED TO BE DISCIPLINES OF LIFE AND MINISTRIES OF CHARACTER. They direct the soul to its true home and life. Life eternal, remember, is a quality; it is not merely a state; and you may enter into eternal life now. Your sorrows and your pains do not belong to the eternal life; and they are given to you that you may lift your spirit out of the surroundings of the present, and that you may clothe them with the glory and the blessedness that belongs to the life that lies beyond. Yes; and these sufferings limit and destroy the evil that remains. And think of the scope it gives for the practice and perfection of the Christian’s virtues.

III. THESE SUFFERINGS, BEING DISCIPLINARY, ARE THE PROOFS AND THE RESULTS OF THE DIVINE LOVE. They are signs that God has not forgotten us. One of the most famous men of this city one day said to me: “I know not how it is, I sometimes tremble at the success of my life. I have wealth beyond the dreams of avarice; I have success in business phenomenal even in these days of success; I have a satisfaction and joy in my family life and in all the relations of my public life that I cannot describe; I sometimes tremble with fear and apprehension.” Within six months that man was smitten--smitten in what was the dearest part of his own self-consciousness; charged with an unworthy action, charged with base behaviour, and held up to obloquy because of things done in his name over which he had no control, and for which he was not responsible, but for which he suffered. Ah! God had not forgotten him. What is God’s will concerning you? It is not merely your joy; it is the bettering of your moral nature; it is the perfecting of all those virtuous characteristics that come out even in the midst of your sorrow. And it is always accompanied by some proof of peculiar favour. When sometimes your loved ones have entered into the place of sorrow, be silent; God is with them. “Far off, far off, ye profane ones!” was the cry of the ancient priestess. So, sometimes, should be the cry to your own souls when the presence of God is manifested in the sorrows of those you love. This is the spirit in which we should receive it, and this is the forecast of its complete removal. For the work of chastisement shall be perfected. All the dealings of God with us shall issue in the attainment of the highest conceptions of the Christian life. And when sorrow shall have done its work, we shall have entered into that infinite life where death itself shall die, and sin itself shall be forgotten, the life that issued even out of the sins and the sorrows and the death of this. (L. D.Bevan, D. D.)

Trouble for our good

The dealings of the Lord, which seem so mysterious to us, may be and often are, the answer to some forgotten petition for spiritual gifts or grace which we have desired. (Anna Shipton.)

Adversity the blessing of the New Testament:

Prosperity is the blessing of the Old Testament; adversity is the blessing of the New, which carried the greater benediction and the clearer revelation of God’s favour. (Lord Bacon.)

Love in pain

Years ago I went into the operating room of University College Hospital, and once saw one of the most skilled of our surgeons removing a limb. It was my first sight of the movement of the surgeon’s knife. I could not keep back a shudder. It made me ill to note the writhing of the sufferer as the cruel instrument penetrated the quivering flesh. I looked at the surgeon’s face. Not a muscle betokened anxiety. His gaze was steady, his spirit calm. His larger vision of the issues, the beneficent issues of his work, filled him with strength, steadied his nerve, and delivered him from weakening fear. The sight of his countenance made me strong. I could look to the end in calm self-control. So have I often found an unspeakable consolation in the joy of God. If He, the Lord of this pain-filled, care-laden, sin-fettered life, where misery and sin and shame abound, and the struggle is so keen, and the strife so dinning; if He is glad and blessed amid all this, it is because He sees all and knows all. (D. Clifford, D. D.)

Afflictions precious:

When Munster lay sick, and his friends asked him how he did, and how he felt himself, he pointed to his sores and ulcers (whereof he was full) and said, “These are God’s gems and jewels wherewith He decketh His best friends, and to me they are more precious than all the gold and silver in the world.” (J. Trapp.)

Afflictions--tokens of Divine regard

Lawns which we would keep in the best condition are very frequently mown; the grass has scarcely any respite from the scythe. Out in the meadows there is no such repeated cutting, they are mown but once or twice in the year. Even thus the nearer we are to God, and the more regard He has for us, the more frequent will be our adversities. To be very dear to God, involves no small degree of chastisement. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Divine discipline

In Southern Europe grow the larches. When they were first introduced into England, the gardeners took it for granted that they needed warmth to cause them to grow; so they were placed in the hothouses, and at once began to wither and droop. The gardeners became disgusted, and threw them out of doors. They at once began to grow, and became trees of great beauty. So it ofttimes becomes necessary for Christ to throw us out of doors into the cold of reverses, disappointments, sorrow, and pain, that our Christian characters may be developed. It becomes at times necessary that God bring upon us sore trials and bereavements that we may be brought back to Him and His service. God does not willingly afflict His people; but in order to bless us it is often necessary to put us in a position to receive and to appreciate His blessings, though it may be through severe trials and galling crosses. (C. W. Bibb.)

Divine discipline:

Troubles are often the tools by which God fashions us for better things. Far up the mountain side lies a block of granite, and says to itself, “How happy am I in my serenity--above the winds, above the trees, almost above the flight of the birds! Here I rest, age after age, and nothing disturbs me.” Yet what is it? It is only a bare block of granite, jutting out of the cliff, and its happiness is the happiness of death. By and by comes the miner, and with strong and repeated strokes he drills a hole in its top, and the rock says, “What does this mean?” Then the black powder is poured in, and with a blast that makes the mountain echo, the block is blown asunder, and goes crashing down into the valley. “Ah!” it exclaims as it falls, “why this rending?” Then come saws to cut and fashion it; and humbled now, and willing to be nothing, it is borne away from the mountain and conveyed to the city. Now it is chiselled and polished, till, at length, finished in beauty, by block and tackle it is raised, with mighty hoistings, high in air, to be the top-stone on some monument of the country’s glory. So God Almighty casts a man down when He wants to chisel him, and the chiselling is always to make him something finer and better than he was before. (H. W. Beecher.)


Verse 7-8

Hebrews 12:7-8

If ye endure chastening

Chastening: what is it?

“It is for chastening that ye endure”--such is the reading and translation in the R.V. That is the purpose sought and prized; an end that sufficiently justifies God in such dealing with His sons, and that sustains His sons in experience of His dealing.

1. But what is “chastening”? Supposing we had a word that meant child-training, son.training, and this under the direction of a father who would spare no pains necessary for its perfect realisation, we should have exactly the corresponding term. But unfortunately we have not, and so we are driven to put up with the poor substitute “chastening.” The father knows his child, his capacities, and, therefore, all the possibilities that are locked up in his being; his opportunities as they lie in the pathway of life, and therefore his obligations; his propensities and habits, and therefore his perils; his hindrances and helps, and therefore his chances. The father yearns over his boy; labours to secure the highest outcome of his life; guards and directs him; will do anything and bear anything for his advancement. He wants him to be an ideal son; his pride and joy in every faculty and feature of excellence. He wants to “make a man “ of him; so that the terms “father” and “son,” “son” and “father,” may never jar, as they dwell on each other’s lips, but may be as choice music to the ear, as beauty to the eye. For that end, with that hope, all is planned, all is done. It is at once the father’s care, he “trains”; and the son’s ambition, he “endures for the training.” The application is obvious. “It is for chastening that ye endure”; to be sons, not in name only, but in deed and in truth; to come up, to be urged up to the standard. Such an issue may well reconcile us to all the pains and humiliations of the “ chastening.” To have the mind enlarged, the heart purified, the life exalted, refined, transfigured! To lose all that is dross; to cast out all that is low and selfish!

2. Now for the word “endure.” This is no tame word. It Jeans something widely different from insensibility, or proud defiance. These Hebrews had joyfully taken the spoiling of their goods, not that they did not value them, not that their loss was no privation, but that they knew in themselves they had a better and an enduring substance in heaven. They had a boldness, a confidence, an exultation even. “Endurance” in them was the triumph of active faith in the recompense of reward. They were “exercised,” much “ exercised” in their afflictions, and the “exercise,” like a Divine alchemy, was turning every constituent of distress into gold.

I. WHO DOUBTS THE NEED OF CHASTENING? Sin in one or other of its myriad forms has aggravated all the imperfections of inexperience, so that we require far surer correction and direction than a childhood and youth of innocence had ever called for.

II. WHO DOUBTS SHE SPIRIT IN WHICH THIS CHASTENING IS INFLICTED? Dictated by love, directed by wisdom, aimed at the highest ends, it has every quality to keep us alike from despising it or fainting under it.

III. WHO IS NOT DRIVEN TO RIGOROUS SELF-EXAMINATION? There is no talismanic power in afflictions, in pains and penalties, that of itself can correct and transform. Would we realise the” profit” our Father seeks, we must be “ exercised” by our chastening. It calls for thought, for reflection, for faithful survey of our life, with its temper, aims, and spirit.

IV. WHO DOES NOT REJOICE IN THE ADVANCE OF CORRECTION AND GROWTH? The mastery of our evil tendencies, the due regulation of our desires, the elevation of our motives and aims, the higher and completer discharge of the claims of life, the stricter integrity, purity, and spirituality of our characters, the closer our likeness to Christ and our fellowship with God, these and kindred issues may well reconcile us to the pain, and sacrifice, and cost of the chastening, and make us “kiss the rod” with all praise. (G. B. Johnson.)

God’s medicine:

If a man be visited with a providential reverse of circumstances, if he be under oppression, if he be attacked by disease, if the delight of his eyes be taken away, methinks I hear God saying, “Take this medicine; it is exactly suited to your case; weighed out by My own hand; take this medicine from Me.” (R. Cecil.)

God dealeth with you as with sons

Life an education

I. GOD EDUCATES US BY MEANS OF OUR PHYSICAL NEEDS. Man is born naked and defenceless; if he would live he must obtain shelter from torrid suns and piercing cold; he must provide himself with food and raiment; he must, by means of his wits, be able to defend himself against enemies infinitely more powerful than himself. How is it that man alone, of all God’s creatures, is sent into the world unprovided with any of those things which are necessary to the support of physical life? It is because God dealeth with us as with sons. It is because life is meant to be to us, and to us alone, an education; and from the first we are pricked on by these goads of necessity. God has taken security that our work shall not be easy, that it shall not be mechanical; but that it shall tax our ingenuity and educe our mental powers to the uttermost. For man is born not only without instinct and without clothing, but without tools. Nature provides the lion with the claws and fangs which make it easy to seize its prey; the bee has in itself all the apparatus necessary for extracting honey, and carrying it, and building its cells, and acting out all its life-history; the spider has its wonderful film ready wound about its body, and the machinery for spinning many threads into one, and affixing it, and weaving its web; but man must first provide himself with external aid if he would hold his own, be it but a sharpened flint or a fishbone! Moreover, God has made man relatively one of the weakest of living things. His bodily powers are poor indeed compared with those of other creatures. What does it all mean? It means this, that God would educate us not chiefly in body, but in mind; it is by the brain that man has subdued the earth and become lord over all creation; it is the necessity of surmounting difficulties and guarding against dangers that has called forth all his resources and educated his faculties and perfected his powers. See, then, how large a part of man’s education is due to his bare bodily necessities! In the endeavour to meet these he has invented all the industrial arts and sciences. And it is not only mental gifts which labour educes. Patience, endurance, forethought, courage--these and many other moral qualities are the outcome of that necessity for work which God lays upon us all.

II. GOD EDUCATES MEN BY MEANS OF THEIR MENTAL NEEDS. He has implanted in nature that which awakens curiosity in man, and He has implanted in man a hunger and thirst after knowledge and truth, and the result is education. Man’s intellectual needs are not less imperative than his physical requirements; they must be satisfied at any cost. He must know all about the flowers at his feet; the science of botany is the result. He raises his eyes to the stars above; their mystery perplexes him; generation after generation he struggles with this mystery till little by little the secrets of the sky are discovered, and the great science of astronomy is pieced together. Curiosity awakened by shells and fossils has led to geology; curiosity about the antecedents of our race has led to history, and so forth. It is thus with all those departments of knowledge which are not purely utilitarian; they are all the result of the desire for knowledge implanted in us by God, acted upon by external nature. And there is in man another intellectual appetite nobler than any of these, which is most powerful in evolving his higher nature--I mean the love of the beautiful. God has clothed hill and vale, mountain and lake, sea and sky, with splendour of colour and form of which the eye never wearies. And further He has put something in the human heart to which these things appeal; there is a strange correspondence between the human soul and the beauties of nature; they were made for one another; there was meant to be action and re-action between them. When gazing on a sunset sky or a lovely scene we realise our immortality as at no other time; we feel that they have a message from God for us.

III. GOD EDUCATES US BY THE SORROWS AND TRIALS OF LIFE. In this matter also man’s position is unique. The lower animals are almost exempt from suffering. It is true that they are liable to physical pain, but there is abundant evidence to prove that this pain is much less acute than in human beings, and in their case there is neither anticipation nor retrospection. But man, to whom was given the dominion over the brutes, man, who was made but a little lower than the angels, how different is his lot! He is “ born to sorrow as the sparks fly upward.” He alone has to endure those mental and spiritual griefs compared with which bodily sufferings are as nothing. All his life is leavened with pain, with forebodings, with vain regrets, with unsatisfied longings. Why is this? Because life is an education; because God dealeth with us as with sons. Men ask why sorrows are permitted. As well might the flower ask why clouds and stormy days are permitted. As well might one expect blossoms and fruit without rain as expect that men can bring forth the fruits of righteousness without the discipline of sorrow. The saintliest of men have been always those who have suffered most; and it behoved even the great Captain of our salvation to be made perfect through suffering in order to teach us that only be who drinks the bitter cup and bears the cross of shame can hope to wear the crown of glory.

IV. GOD EDUCATES US BY OUR SPIRITUAL NEEDS. The most imperative want of our nature is to know God. Everywhere there is a belief in a God or gods, the instinct of worship, conscience more or less developed. Everywhere is felt the necessity of propitiating and being reconciled to the Invisible Power whom transgression has offended. And the more a man advances in holiness and moral greatness, the more is he impelled to make the thought of the Psalmist his own: “Like as the hart desireth the water brooks, so longeth my soul after Thee, O God”; “My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.” And while he is ever hungering after God with a hunger which nothing on earth can appease, conscience is ever urging him to a closer and closer walk with God, and yet he never feels that he has fully attained or is already perfect. What is the reason why these strange desires and instincts have been implanted in man? What but the truth our text teaches that God dealeth with us as with sons? Just as God has given in the book of Nature that which educes and partly satisfies man’s intellectual needs, so He has given us in Holy Scripture that which educes and ministers to our spiritual needs. The correspondence between our craving for knowledge, and the revelation by which that craving is met, affords the clearest proof that both are from God, and that in sacred things as in secular the main purpose of our life is education.

1. It throws light upon the mystery of the present. This earth is but the lowest room in God’s school; in other spheres and at other times the education which circumstances thwarted and hindered here will be carried on under happier circumstances.

2. And it throws light upon the mystery of the future. It affords one of the strongest arguments for a future life. For, of course, the education which is commenced here can be at best but in its initial stage when death removes us. (A. M. Mackay, B. A.)

Correcting a son:

Like as if two children should fight, and a man passing by should part them, and afterwards beat the one and let the other go free, every one that seeth this will say that the child which he beat is his own son: even so when God chastiseth us, if we submit. (Cawdray.)

Adversity a purifier

God often uses adversity as a purifier. The wintry snows that lie before my window here (at Saratoga) this morning will kill the vermin; so God sends wintry seasons upon His children to kill certain species of besetting sins. (T. L. Cuyler.)

Severe discipline

A child was taken ill with that dangerous disorder the croup. It was a child most ardently beloved, and, ordinarily, very obedient; but, in this state of uneasiness and pain, he refused to take the medicine which it was needful, without delay, to administer. The father, finding him resolute, immediately punished his sick and suffering son. Under these circumstances, and fearing that his son might soon die, it must have been a most severe trial to the father: but the consequence was, that the child was taught that sickness was no excuse for disobedience; and, while his sickness continued, he promptly took whatever medicine was prescribed, and was patient and submissive. Soon the child was well. Does any one say that this was cruel? It was one of the noblest acts of kindness which could have been performed. If the father had shrunk from duty here, it is by no means improbable that the life of the child would have been the forfeit. (W. Abbott.)

The stripes of love:

Fear not: these stripes are the tokens of His love. He is no son that is not beaten; yea, till he smart, and cry; if not, till he bleed. No parent corrects another’s child; and he is no good parent that corrects not his own. O rod, worthy to be kissed, that assures us of His love, of our adoption. (Bp. Hall.)


Verse 9-10

Hebrews 12:9-10

Subjection unto the Father of spirits

Divine correction

I.
THE DUTY IS SUBJECTION. “Shall we not be in subjection?” This is not opposed to insensibility. There is no patience, no resignation, in bearing what we do not feel. If you do not prize what you give up at the call of God, there can be no value in your obedience. But it is the repression of everything rebellious--in our carriage--in our speech--and in the temper of our minds.

II. Let us consider THE REASONS BY WHICH THIS DUTY IS ENFORCED. Here are four motives.

1. The first is derived from the relation in which God stands to us. He is our Father. But to what does this lead? The conclusion, says the apostle, is obvious. If He pre-eminently fills this relation, His claims to duty are proportionally great. You gave the fathers of your flesh reverence. And shall a man obtain more obedience than God?

2. This brings us to the second reason of submission. It is taken from the danger of resistance. “Shall we not much rather be in subjection to the Father of spirits, and live?” Clearly intimating that disobedience will end in death. There cannot be a more awful presage of future misery than to counteract the afflictive dispensations of Divine Providence, and “ despise the chastening of the Almighty.” It provokes the anger of God, and operates penally in one of these two ways. Either, first, it induces God to recall the rod, and give a man up to the way of his own heart, or, secondly,

He turns the rod into a scorpion, and fulfils the threatening: “If ye will not be reformed by Me by these things, but will walk contrary unto Me, then will I also walk contrary unto you, and will punish you yet seven times for your sins.”

3. The third motive is taken from the brevity of the discipline. They verily chastened us; but it was only “a few days.” The child soon became a man, and the course of restriction and preparation resulted in a state of maturity. This is to be applied to our heavenly Father, and contains an encouraging intimation, that the whole season of trial, when opposed to our future being and blessedness, is but a short period.

4. The last motive is derived from the principle and design of affliction. Men are imperfect, and their actions are like themselves. Hence, when as their children they chastened us, it was frequently “for their pleasure.” They would do it. It was to give ease to their passions; to vent their feelings. It was to show their authority, or maintain their consequence, regardless of our welfare. But this is not the case with God. “He does not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men.” He does it only “if needs be”--He does it “for our profit.” What profit? A profit that infinitely weighs down every other advantage, and which, above all things, yea, and by “ any means,” you should be anxious to secure: spiritual profit; Divine profit--“that you might be partakers of His holiness.” If God chastens us to make us holy, we learn

The purpose of Divine chastisements

In nothing, perhaps, is it so hard to feel for ourselves and to help others to feel that God is good, as in life’s great afflictions. We are so prone to look only at the present sorrow and forget the future joy. “Why is this so? Can it be that there is mercy in such seeming wrath?” God condescends to reason with us, from the analogy of parental affection, drawing both argument and illustration. We have often felt the beauty of the methods elsewhere used for presenting the same essential truth, as, for example, where God compares Himself to the refiner of silver, melting His people down in the crucible of affliction to “purge away their dross”; but in this comparison is couched the beauty of an unutterable tenderness. He addresses our parental instincts, and asks us whether we do not ourselves know that love and chastening are not contradictory or inconsistent. I need not say that this doctrine of love as the impulse and interpreter of affliction is peculiarly Biblical. When calamity befell a pagan he beheld in it a mark of Divine displeasure, and at once set himself at work to appease the wrath of Deity. Even the ancient people of God were very slow to accept the right view of God’s chastisements.

I. The first element of contrast suggested by the text is this. OUR HUMAN PARENTS PUNISH PASSIONATELY, AND NOT ALWAYS DELIBERATELY. Without meaning to, without, perhaps, being conscious of it, they are sometimes simply giving vent to impatient, excited, or even angry feeling, in chastising their offspring. The impatient impulse, the caprice of the moment, rules us and puts into the correction the severity, it may be violence, of an indignation by no means wholly righteous. God is not susceptible of anything like passion as we understand it--either in its impulsiveness, impetuosity, malice, or malignity. Even God’s anger is the unchanging hatred of evil--the anger of principle, not of passion--calm even in its fury, slow even in its haste, cool even in its heat. Our anger is like the agitation of a shallow lake, rippled with every breeze. All this is our assurance in affliction that God cannot deal harshly, severely, or unjustly with us. With the calmness of eternal patience, the steadfastness of eternal love, He afflicts us solely for our good.

II. Again, our earthly parents chastise us PUNITIVELY AND NOT CORRECTIVELY. They aim more to punish the offence than to correct the evil and reform the evildoer. Here is another way in which passion often inflicts chastisement. An earthly father is grieved and rightly angry because the son has offended against truth, virtue, honesty, integrity. This is a far nobler passion than the caprices of ill-temper, yet it is doubtful whether a parent can be sure of inflicting profitable correction under its influence. It hurries one into a method of punishment which hardens rather than softens which is ill-adapted to the peculiar temperament of the child, which may restrain from similar offences, if at all, only from fear of the rod, and not at all from love of the right. It should ever be borne in mind that the highest purpose of all punishment is not the vindication of a principle, but the reformation of an offender, or at least the salvation of others from similar sins. To contend for a principle is noble, but oh, how insignificant all else in comparison with the welfare of a soul! Oh, let us not forget that true love of the parent may help to kindle that true love of the right which is stronger than any fear of correction. The word here rendered “chasten,” means educate. All God’s chastening is meant to educate His children; His dealings are designed as a discipline. He must punish our offences; but the grand end He proposes to Himself is to secure our sanctification and salvation. God teaches us that with Him fatherly pity prompts His chastisements. In all God’s afflictions He consults the exact temperament of His children. He knoweth our frame. It is one of the most palpable facts of history that the men who have wielded the mightiest moral influence have been prepared for it by the severest Divine discipline. No less means would have subdued that great will and made its stubbornness an element of steadfastness anti stability. A degree of heat that must melt down the harder metals is far more intense than that which melts the softest; yet when made into vessels, that which it took the hotter fire to fuse is far the stronger and more serviceable; while you can bend and twist the other, this is unaffected by hard usage. So does God use the chastening rod with tender consideration for our temperament and constitution, adapting His discipline to our need. If we desire the largest fitness for service, we must submit to His wise chastening.

III. Again, our earthly parents chastens us IMPERFECTLY, NOT INFALLIBLY according to their own fallible judgment of right and wrong. This thought is suggested in the text by the phrase, “according to their own pleasure,” literally according to what seemed good or right to them. Parental love is imperfect, and so is parental wisdom, so that with the best possible intentions grave mistakes may be committed in a child’s discipline. Hero appears perhaps the principal emphasis of the text: They, according to what seemed good: He, according to what is good for us. God reminds us that He cannot err. The chastening He inflicts is for our profit--and let us grasp the full meaning--not only for our profit is it designed, but adapted. Not what seems best, but what is best. Oh, let us remember the perfect fatherhood and fatherliness of God! This is the profit for which He chastens us, as He Himself defines it, “that we might be partakers of the Divine holiness.”

IV. Once more, our earthly parents chasten us TEMPORARILY, NOT PERMANENTLY, as the text says, “for a few days.” This phrase means more than it seems to imply. It probably refers to the fact that much of our parental training looks to immediate results, not remote ones--it is with reference to a few days, or at most to our short earthly life. The effect is transient, not permanent. Now, God’s chastening always looks to eternal results. That which is near at hand impresses us most vividly; we are therefore always emphasising present good and undervaluing the more precious things of the hereafter. How different must all this appear to God, whose omniscient eye sees the end from the beginning, and to whom the remotest future is as vivid as the present, the remotest result as real as the present process! (A. T. Pierson, D. D.)

Our virtues witnesses against us:

There is a very interesting argument involved in this saying of the apostle--the argument from what we are as men to what we ought to be as Christians. A dutiful child submits meekly to a father’s correction; why, then, do we not submit meekly to the correction of God? The mere fact of submission to the human goes far towards showing that it is not through any actual inability that we refuse submission to the Divine Parent. The reasoning, in short, is a reasoning from what men are as members of society to what they ought to be as creatures of God; and they may be brought under condemnation if they fail to act towards God, displaying Himself under certain characters, as they act towards their fellow-men, who bear those same characters, though only subordinately. And this reasoning is of very wide application--so that what we may term our social conduct will furnish overwhelming evidence against us at the last, if we are not found among those who have loved and served God. If God demand faith in His Word, are we not capable of believing? Are we not accustomed to believe, yea, and to allow our belief to influence our practice, whenever there is a sufficiency of testimony? And will not this, our capacity of believing, demonstrated as it is by facts of daily occurrence, justify our condemnation, if we fail to put faith in the declarations of Scripture? In like manner, if God demand from us gratitude and love, does He demand what we are unable to give? On the contrary, we are so constituted that we naturally feel thankful to a benefactor; and any one of us who could receive kindness, and yet show himself void of all affection towards the giver, would make himself an object of scorn and abhorrence, as wanting the common sensibilities which characterise our nature. If, then, God manifestly bring Himself into the position of a benefactor, it is very evident that He has right to ask from us in return gratitude and love; that in asking them He only asks what we continually prove ourselves able to give, and that, consequently, if we refuse what is asked of us, there will be needed nothing beyond our conduct in the several intercourses of life to prove us without excuse, if finally condemned for not giving God our hearts. And once more--if God asks obedience to His laws and submission to His authority, He asks only what we are in the daily habit of rendering to earthly superiors. He may surely appeal to our conduct in reference to earthly magistrates, as proving us without excuse if we wilfully violate His laws. Thus our text involves a principle of very general application; and we perhaps little think what material of condemnation we heap up against ourselves by the conscientious discharge of every relative duty, whilst we remain virtually strangers to the power of religion. Now, I have thus engaged you with the general argument, rather than with the particular case presented by the text. Now, however, we will confine ourselves to that case, the case being that of parents and children, and the implied argument, that the reverence which we show to our earthly father will be a swift witness against us, if we fail in the reverence which is due to our heavenly Father. There is no more beautiful and graceful affection of our nature than that which subsists between parents and children. We must admire this affection, even as exhibited amongst inferior animals. There is no page in natural history more attractive than that which tells how tenderly the wild beasts of the forest will watch their young, or with what assiduousness the fowls of the air will tend their helpless brood. And in the human race the affection goes far beyond this; for if not more intense at the first, it is abiding and reciprocal. And this affection of a parent for a child is not merely a graceful and beautiful sentiment, shedding a charm over the privacies of domestic life; it is one of the chief mainsprings of human activity, and contributes perhaps more than anything else to the keeping together the elements of society. It is quite extraordinary, if you come to think, how this single affection or instinct will tie down a man to unwearied occupation, so that he will toil night and day to gain subsistence for his family. He might betake himself to another scene, where, having only himself to provide for, he might live in comparative ease; but his young ones have nestled round his heart; he cannot be tempted by any prospect of relief to desert those who lean on him as a father, and therefore, with a heroism which would draw on itself intense admiration if it were not so common, will he employ all his energies, and wear down all his strength, in obtaining a sufficiency for those beneath his roof. Thus is society virtually knit together by and through the parental affection; and you have only to suppose this affection extinguished, so that fathers and mothers cared nothing, or only for a short time, for those to whom they gave life, and you destroy the fine play of a healthful activity, and slacken the bonds which make fast communities. And whilst parents are thus abidingly and profitably actuated by affection for their children, children maintain an affection towards their parents scarcely less graceful and scarcely less advantageous. This is not so much an instinct as a principle; and, accordingly, while the Bible contains no precept as to loving children, it contains a most express precept as to honouring parents, so that there is given to the latter the character of a high duty, to whose performance we are urged by a distinct and full promise. And the point to which I have to bring you is, that this duty is very generally and very faithfully performed. It is comparatively but seldom that children show want of affection towards a father and a mother, when that father and that mother have done their part as parents; whether it be in the highest or the lowest families of the land, there is generally a frank yielding to its heads of that respect and that gratitude which they have a right to look for from their offspring. There is no disputing the first statement of the text; for it is the general rule--“We have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence.” But how now as to the inference which St. Paul draws from this statement? How as to our subjection to another and a higher Father, “the Father of spirits”? If it be the common rule, the exceptions not being such as to bring the rule into question, that children give reverence to their fathers, surely, if God be a Father, He too will be reverenced. Once establish the relationship, and the reverence and submission will follow almost of course. Children! listen ye to this; parents! listen ye to this--children, who are never wanting in dutiful affection towards your parents; parents, who are never unmindful of what you have a right to look for from your children--children, who will do all in your power to soothe the declining years of a father or a mother, who feel it a privilege to pay back by labours of love the tenderness lavished on you from infancy upwards, who attach a sacredness to the every word and the every wish of persons so beloved and revered; parents, who feel cat to the heart by the ingratitude of a child, who are conscious of being robbed of your incontrovertible rights, whenever a son or a daughter is deficient in attachment and respect--yes, children and parents, listen ye alike to this; ye are self-condemned, ye are swift witnesses against yourselves, if as members of the universal family ye fail to be what ye are as members of particular households; and oh! ye must be speechless at the judgment, if the simple “argument of our text should be worked out against you--if the Judge should say to you, “Ye had fathers of your flesh, and ye gave them reverence,” and should follow this up by the thrilling and unanswerable question, “Why, then, were ye not in subjection to the Father of spirits, that ye might live?” I do not know whether you have been accustomed to follow for yourselves such trains of thought as the words of our text have thus led us to open; but we own that we regard the subject which has been under discussion as one of no common importance and interest, presenting, as it does, all that is amiable and admirable in domestic life as fraught with testimony to be delivered at the great day of assize. Is there the merchant amongst you of unimpeachable rectitude, who would sooner die than be guilty of a fraud? Why, that man’s ledger is one of the books that shall be opened at the judgment; the hatred of everything base which it displays will be a witness against him if he have robbed God of His due. Is there the tradesman who would abhor the overreaching a customer, whom nothing could persuade to use the false weight and balance? Why, that man’s shop will be referred to hereafter; it will prove him rigidly conscientious towards his fellow-men, and therefore self-condemned if he have defrauded his God. Or is there a patriot, who, with a fine love of liberty, would do and dare nobly to uphold the free institutions of his country? That man’s generous ardour will be quoted hereafter; could he be indignant against all lesser tyranny, and yet be excusable in making no struggle against the tyranny of sin? Is there the son or the daughter amongst you who has shown reverence to parents? That man or that woman will have nothing to plead when God shall affirm Himself to be a Father, but a Father neglected by His children. Or are there servants amongst you who answer the apostle’s description--“Obedient to their own masters, not answering again, not purloining, but showing all good fidelity”? Their unblemished characters will rise against them at the judgment; so true to their employers, what shall be said for them if false to their Maker? Ah, it may sound strangely, but, nevertheless, we may confidently assert that virtues, the want of which must exclude us from heaven, may themselves doom us to a lower place in hell. (H. Melvill, B. D.)

The Fatherhood of God in the sufferings of life

This chapter contains one of the clearest expositions in the Bible of the Divine philosophy of suffering. In this chapter we trace two great convictions which, when combined, form the apostle’s explanation of suffering--the belief in a Father, and the belief in His purpose to make man divinely glad. He does not attempt to explain this by any assertion of laws and penalties; he says nothing about inherited sin or transmitted judgment; his one solution is this--the Father is educating His child.

I. THE PURPOSE OF LIFE’S SUFFERINGS.

II. GOD’S PURPOSE IN SUFFERING IS TO EDUCATE MAN THROUGH HOLINESS INTO JOY. For the attainment of this end two things are requisite

1. The vision of a higher world. It is manifest that unless we are delivered from the thraldom of the present world, we cannot resist its temptations or escape its snares. Until we realise the world of God and the angels, we can reach no true holiness. And for this the discipline of sorrow fits us. It isolates us from the turmoil of the present, and opens the spirit’s eye.

2. Divine power is the second requisite for the full attainment of this joy. Until we are strong, we cannot be “partakers of His holiness.” We become strong by self-surrender, for self-surrender is self-control. We must glance at the practical lesson which is here suggested, “Shall we not be subject to the Father of spirits, and live?” The question arises, How can this be realised? In three ways

The proper view and improvement of affliction

I. THE LIGHT IN WHICH AFFLICTION OUGHT TO BE VIEWED BY CHRISTIANS.

1. As coming from God.

2. As merited by our sins,

3. As the effect of fatherly wisdom and love.

4. With a desire that His gracious design may be fulfilled in us.

II. THE TENDENCY WHICH AFFLICTION HAS TO BENEFIT US. “That we may be partakers of His holiness.” Now the way in which affliction tends to produce this great end is

1. By giving us a just idea, giving us a practical impression, of the evil of sin.

2. Affliction tends to convince us of the insufficiency of the present world.

3. Submission to the will of God.

4. Sympathy.

5. Affliction weans us from the world, and fixes our thoughts on another state.

Lessons:

1. Let the afflicted derive comfort.

2. Let those who have been afflicted seriously consider what has been the effect of their trials upon themselves. If no effect has been produced, what can they expect but “sorrow upon sorrow”? (R. Hall, M. A.)

Afflictions salutary

I have read of a mariner who got tossed by the storm, lost his reckoning, and was driven he knew not whither by the raging winds and darkness and danger. But when all was calm and clear he found he was actually nearer home than he could possibly have been under ordinary circumstances. Shall not I be glad, when my night of storm and trial is past, to find (which I think I shall) that I am nearer God and heaven than I should otherwise have been? (Geo. Brazier.)

The profitableness of chastisements:

Absalom sends once or twice to Joab to come and speak with him; but when he saw that he could not come, he commands his corn-field to be set on fire and so he fetched him with a witness; so children of God, when they stand off upon terms, and will not see His face, the fire of affliction will make them seek Him early and diligently. It is the custom of our gallants, when their horses be slow and dull, to spur them up. If iron grows rusty, we put it into the fire to purify it, and so doth God; in our backwardness to duties, He pricks us on, or, being in our filthiness, casts us into the hot embers of tribulation to purify us. (John Barlow.)

Suffering advantageous:

There is a great want in those Christians that have not suffered. (R. M. McCheyne.)

Afflictions salutary:

Bitter pills bring sweet health, and sharp winter kills worms and weeds, and mellows the earth for better bearing of fruits and flowers. The lily is sowed in its own tears, and God’s vines bear the better for bleeding. The walnut-tree is most fruitful when most beaten; and camomile, the more you tread it the more you spread it. Aloes kill worms, and stained clothes are whitened by frosting. (J. Trapp.)

The Father of spirits:

Men are not animals plus a soul, but spirits with an animal nature. (F. D. Maurice, M. A.)

Submission

John Newton said he would rather be able to pronounce these three sentences in his mother tongue from his heart than be master of all the languages of Europe: “What Thou wilt; when Thou wilt; how Thou wilt.”

Gratitude for affliction

A lady, from injuries received in a railway accident, had to keep her bed in much pain and suffering for tong weary months. Upon the anniversary of the accident she gathered some of her most intimate friends into her room, and there, still a prisoner to her bed, she held a meeting of praise, counting up all the mercies of her year of sickness. (Mrs. Reaney.)

Subjection to God

A lady one day, in her husband’s absence from home, lost two children by cholera; but she laid them out with a mother’s tenderness, and spread a sheet over them, and waited at the door for her husband’s return. “A person lent me some jewels,” she said, when she met him, “and he now wishes to receive them again; what shall I do?” “Return them, by all means,” said her husband. Then she led the way, and silently uncovered to him the forms of his dear children. (C. Leach.)

The accepted will of God:

When Dr. Bushnell was dying, his wife repeated to him, slightly transposing the words of the text, “The good and perfect and accepted will of God.” He replied, “Yes, and accepted.” (Bushnell’s Life.)

Father teaches me:

Passing through a narrow street in an old town, under the shadow of an equally old church, with its tall spire pointing heavenward, a woman hurries on her way to the station with a troubled heart and a load of care, none the less heavy that it is more worry than trouble. Two little mites of children, happy and merry-looking, are peering over their school-lessons. She catches the words of one as she passes, spoken with the ring of a child’s loving pride, “Father teaches me”; and then comes the answer from the other child, “How nice to have a father to teach you!” with an emphasis on the name which showed that she knew something, small though she was, of what a father’s love and teaching might and should mean. The woman’s face brightened as she heard, and she turned with a grateful smile to the two little ones, pausing to look at them for a minute before she went hurrying on again. And as she went her face kept its brighter look, for she thought to herself, “Surely, many beside that little child can say, ‘Father teaches me.’”

That we might be partakers of His holiness

The benefit of afflictions

I. THE LIGHT IN WHICH AFFLICTIONS OUGHT TO RE VIEWED, AND THE DISPOSITION WITH WHICH THEY OUGHT TO BE RECEIVED.

II. CONSIDER THEIR TENDENCY, WHEN THUS VIEWED AND RECEIVED, TO PROMOTE OUR SPIRITUAL INTEREST. “That we might be partakers of His holiness”; that is, of the holiness which He requires. Holiness consists in conformity to the will of God. Afflictions have a tendency to promote the great work.

1. They teach you the evil nature of sin, on account of which they are sent, and point you to the Saviour. Practical lessons are the best of all lessons.

2. The utter insufficiency of this world, as a portion for the soul. In days of prosperity you may not be thoroughly convinced of this.

3. Afflictions excite and increase some of the most amiable and pious dispositions of the human heart. Such as resignation and patience.

4. When viewed in their true light, and received with a proper spirit, they are most satisfactory proofs of the love of God.

Remarks:

1. In the light of this subject we see the reason why so many instances of affliction fail to produce any good and lasting effect. The agency of God is not acknowledged in them.

2. This subject furnishes solemn reproof and warning to such as have experienced affliction, and yet have not repented.

3. This subject affords instruction and peculiar encouragement to Christians. Those who wear the white robes in heaven came out of great tribulation. (John Matthews, D. D.)

Sanctified affliction:

The following is from a letter of John Frederic Obeilin, pastor of Waldbech, to a lady, who had suffered many bereavements: “I have before me two stones, which are in imitation of precious stones. They are both perfectly alike in colour; they are of the same water--clear, pure, and clean; yet there is a marked difference between them as to their lustre and brilliancy. One has a dazzling brightness, while the other is dull, so that the eye passes over it, and derives no pleasure from the sight. What can be the reason of such a difference? It is this. The one is cut but in a few facets; the other has ten times as many. These facets are produced by a very violent operation. Nevertheless, the operations being over, it is done for ever: the difference between the two stones always remains strongly marked. That which has suffered but little is entirely eclipsed by the other, which alone is held in estimation, and attracts attention.

The profit of adversity:

Surely we deceive ourselves to think on earth continued joys would please. It is a way that crosses that which Nature goes. Nothing would be more tedious than to be glutted with perpetual jollities. Were the body tied to one dish always (though of the most exquisite flavour that it could make choice of), yet, after a small time, it would complain of loathing and satiety; and so would the soul, if it did ever epicure itself in joy. Discontents are sometimes the better part of our life. I know not well which is the more useful: joy I may choose for pleasure, but adversities, are the best for profit; and sometimes these do so far help me, as I should without them want much of the joy I have. (O. Feltham.)

Sanctified affliction for the future:

It is not so much by the symmetry of what we attain in this life that we are to be made happy, as by the enlivening hope of what we shall reach in the world to come. While a man is stringing a harp, he tries the strings, not for music, but for construction. When it is finished it shall be played for melodies. God is fashioning the human heart for future joy. He only sounds a string here and there to see how far His work has progressed.(H. W. Beecher.)

The father loved for correction:

On one occasion a minister found it necessary to punish his little daughter. But Mary climbed into his lap, and throwing her arms around his neck, said, “Papa, I do love you.” “Why do you love me?” the father asked. “Because you try to make me good, papa.” It is in this spirit that God’s people should accept the chastisements He sends, remembering that it is in love He rebukes and chastens; not for His pleasure, but for their profit, that they may be partakers of His holiness.

Truth seen in adversity:

A diamond had slipped from its setting, and rolled away, none knew whither. Diligent search was made in every apartment where its owner might have been, but in vain. At length evening drew on, and, sitting in a careless mood, her eye caught the sparkle of a tiny ray, almost imperceptible, but bright as only a diamond’s glance can be. Out of the darkness it gleamed, and one might stoop and take that which daylight had failed to reveal, though sought with tears. And thus it is in the Christian’s experience. In the daylight of prosperity he seeks in vain for the precious presence of the Holy Spirit. Yet when the night of adversity draws nigh, suddenly there shines a light amidst the darkness of spiritual despondency which reveals to him “the unsearchable riches of Christ.”


Verse 11

Hebrews 12:11

Afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness

Sweet fruit from a thorny tree:

When our heavenly Father “puts His hand into the bitter box” and weighs out to us a portion of wormwood and gall in the form of bodily pain, we very naturally ask the reason why.
Nature suggests the question at times in petulance, and gets no answer; faith only asks it with bated breath, and gains a gracious reply.

I. PAIN TEACHES US OUR NOTHINGNESS. Health permits us to swell in self-esteem, and gather much which is unreal; sickness makes our feebleness conspicuous, and at the same time breaks up many of our shams. We need solid grace when we are thrown into the furnace of affliction; gilt and tinsel shrivel up in the fire. The patience in which we somewhat prided ourselves, where is it when sharp pangs succeed each other, like poisoned arrows setting the blood on flame? The joyful faith which could do all things, and bear all sufferings, is it always at hand when the time of trial has arrived? The peace which stood aloft on the mountain’s summit and serenely smiled on storms beneath, does it hold its ground quite so easily as we thought it would when at our ease we prophesied our behaviour in the day of battle? When nought remains but the clinging of a weeping child, who grasps his father’s hand; nothing but the smiting on the breast of the publican, who cries “God be merciful to me a sinner”; nought but the last resolve, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him”--no real loss has been sustained, say, rather, a great gain has come to the humbled heart.

II. HEAVY SICKNESS AND CRUSHING PAIN SHUT OUT FROM US A THOUSAND MINOR CARES. We cannot now be cumbered with much serving, for others must take our place, and play the Martha in our stead; and it is well if then we are enabled to take Mary’s place as nearly as possible, and lie at Jesus’ feet if we cannot sit there. The Lord must do all, or it must remain undone. The weary head could only exaggerate the need; the sinking spirits could not suggest a supply. All must be left; yes, must be left. The reins drop from the driver’s hands, the ploughman forgets the furrow, the seed-basket hangs no longer on the sewer’s arm. Thus is the soul shut in with God as within a wall of tire, and all her thought must be of Him, and of His promise and His help; grateful if but such thoughts will come, and forced if they come not just to lie as one dead at the feet of the great Lord and look up and hope. This cutting loose from earthly shores, this rehearsal of what must soon be done once for all in the hour of departure, is a salutary exercise, tending to cut away the hampering besetments of this mortal life, and make us freer for the heavenly race.

III. SICKNESS HAS CAUSED MANY WORKERS TO BECOME MORE INTENSE WHEN THEY HAVE AGAIN BEEN FAVOURED TO RETURN TO THEIR PLACE. We lie and bemoan our shortcomings, perceiving fault where it had in healthier hours escaped observation, resolving, in God’s strength, to throw our energies more fully into the weightiest matters, and spend less of force on secondary things. How much of lasting good may come of this! The time, apparently wasted, may turn out to be a real economy of life if the worker for years to come shall be more earnest, more careful, more prayerful, more passionately set upon doing his Lord’s business thoroughly. Oh that we could all thus improve our forced retirements! Then should we come forth like the sun from the chambers of the east, all the brighter for the night’s chill darkness, while about us would be the dew of the Spirit, and the freshness of a new dawning.

IV. PAIN, IF SANCTIFIED, CREATES TENDERNESS TOWARDS OTHERS. Alone it may harden and shut up the man within himself, a student of his own nerves and ailments, a hater of all who would pretend to rival him in suffering; but, mixed with grace, our aches and pains are an ointment supplying the heart, and causing the milk of human kindness to fill the breast. The poor are tender to the poor, and the sick feel for the sick when their afflictions have wrought after a healthful fashion. Grief has been full oft the mother of mercy, and the pangs of sickness have been the birth-throes of compassion. If our hearts learn sympathy, they have been in a good school, though the Master may have used the rod most heavily, and taught us by many a smart.

V. PAIN HAS A TENDENCY TO MAKE US GRATEFUL WHEN HEALTH RETURNS. We value the powers of locomotion after tossing long upon a bed from which we cannot rise, the open air is sweet after the confinement of the chamber, food is relished when appetite returns, and in all respects the time of recovery is one of marked enjoyment. As birds sing most after their winter’s silence, when the warm spring has newly returned, so should we be most praiseful when our gloomy hours are changed for cheerful restoration. Gratitude is a choice spice for heaven’s altar. It burns well in the censer, and sends up a fragrant cloud, acceptable to the great High Priest. Perhaps God would have lost much praise if His servant had not much suffered. Sickness thus yields large tribute to the King’s revenue; and if it be so, we may cheerfully endure it. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The effects of sorrow

It is of sorrow I would speak. None can escape it. A man unacquainted with suffering would be a monstrous exception. You have doubtless seen the famous painting of a modern artist, “The Call of the Condemned, during the Reign of Terror.” The prisoners, already sentenced by the revolutionary tribunal, are there, huddled up together in the vast hall and beneath the low arches of the Conciergerie. In the background, the door stands open, and the jailer, behind whom the fatal chariot is visible, reads the names written upon the list of death. All listen; some have already risen and press the hands of their friends in a farewell grasp; others, whose countenance is ghastly and full of anguish, wait; others veil their feelings beneath stoical scorn; they seem to say, “To-day or to-morrow, what matters? It is but a question of time.” Thus it is with each of us; we are doomed to suffer; none of us is forgotten on the roll of the elect of affliction. Well! here is a strange fact: this question of suffering, the most universal and individual, the most ancient and actual of all questions, remains one of those which natural reason is absolutely incompetent to elucidate. Interrogate the ancient world, the Greek or Roman societies with their most illustrious philosophers, and you will find that every one of them, in presence of suffering, has but one of two counsels to give man: dissipation with Epicurus, or indifference with the stoic Zeno. I cannot, however, forget that some few more clear-sighted souls have seen in affliction a mysterious instrument of Providence, a means of education for man; but these were only stray gleams, like flashes of lightning illumining the darkness of ancient philosophy. This is what Seneca writes to a mother who had lost her son by death: “Prejudice, which causes us to mourn so long, leads us further than nature commands. See how vehement are the regrets of dumb animals, yet how short is their duration! Cows that have lost their offspring moan but two or three days; mares pursue their wild and wandering course no longer. When the savage beast has followed the traces of her young and scoured the forest in every direction, when she has returned time after time to the den ravaged by the hunter, her fierce grief is very soon appeased. The bird that whirls with startling cry round her empty nest is quieted in an instant, and resumes her wonted flight. No animal long regrets its young; man alone loves to nurse his sorrow, and grieves, not by reason of what he feels, but in proportion as he has determined to grieve” (“Consolation to Marcia,” ch. 7.). Having read this page, open the gospel and, with adoration, acknowledge the debt of gratitude you owe to Jesus Christ. According to Holy Writ, suffering is neither a simply natural phenomenon nor an effect of the primordial will of the Creator. According to Scripture it is an anomaly. God did not ordain it; in the beginning God beheld His work, and lo, it was good. Suffering is the logical, inevitable consequence of the false relation in which man has placed himself with God (Hosea 14:2). But, if Scripture lays down this grand general principle that suffering is the consequence of sin, it affirms, none the less clearly, that in our earthly life sin and suffering are never fully equivalent; it forbids our drawing from exceptional affliction the inference of exceptional guilt; it interdicts our taking the Divine balance into our own hands and interpreting the judgments of God according to our imperfect knowledge of things. Such, in a few words, is the teaching of Scripture on what we might call the theoretical side of the problem of suffering. But if, looked at in this light, this teaching appears to us measured and limited; everything changes when we look at it from a practical point of view. Here light abounds: when we endeavour to demonstrate the providential action of suffering, its salutary effects upon souls, the various and often sublime ends to which God makes it serve, we feel that lessons gush forth from every detail, and that we are verily at the school of the Divine Educator. Let us, first of all, lay down a principle: Suffering in itself is not good. Suffering is what we make it. It can produce humiliation or revolt, it regenerates the heart or renders it a thousand times more vile; it is the pensive and gentle angel that brings us back to the true life, or the demon that beholds with a cynical sneer the nothingness of all hope; it causes the sacred source of repentant sorrow to gush forth, or, like a consuming fire, it parches and withers in the depth of the soul all the germs of the future. It is blessed or accursed, it raises to a new life or it kills. The two wretches agonising upon Calvary, one on Christ’s right hand and one on His left, are both crucified, but the one believes whilst the other blasphemes; the one repents whilst the other hardens his heart. In consequence, the point to be solved is, not only if we suffer, but if we accept affliction as coming from God. For those who bear suffering in this spirit I would show what it may be and what are the fruits it may yield. In the first place, I say that affliction gives us a fuller understanding of religious truth, Not that it teaches us anything which is absolutely new, but it makes realities of those beliefs which are often in danger of being considered by.us as pure abstractions. You will be convinced of this if, for a moment, you examine the notion which sorrow gives us of God, of others, and of ourselves. As regards the truth concerning God. For many God exists only as a cardinal notion, in truth, but as a mere notion nevertheless. What is required that He may reveal Himself to such, as a living and present Being, that truly religious faith may be joined, henceforth, to purely intellectual faith? A profound thinker (Schleier-reacher) has told us, Man must feel that he is dependent upon Him. Religion comes into existence together with the sentiment of dependence. Now, what is most sure of producing this sentiment within us? Affliction. Just as the darkness of night unveils to our gaze the splendours of the starry heavens, even so it is in the gloom of trial, in that night of the soul, that the eye of faith most clearly discerns the glories of Divine love. As regards the truth concerning men. This demands no proof. At all times it has been said: We know men only when we have suffered. As regards the truth concerning ourselves. Does a man know himself when he has not suffered? Does he take a serious view of evil when he has not felt its pangs? Can he have a correct idea of his weakness when he has not been vanquished? If death is the wages of sin, suffering is its humiliating earnest, and we may well discern in it the cruel effigy of the master to whom we have sold ourselves. Therefore affliction gives us a fuller understanding of the truths concerning ourselves, our fellow-men, and God. It does more, it acts upon conscience, it subdues the will. Would the idolatrous Canaanite ever have thought of coming to Christ if her heart had not been rent by the fearful spectacle of her demon-possessed daughter?

Would Jairus, ruler of the synagogue, have called the Saviour if he had not seen his child in the agony of death? Count those who followed Jesus during His ministry upon earth, question the innumerable multitudes which compose His retinue throughout the ages, and you will see that most of His disciples went to Him because they suffered. And as suffering has begun the work of their salvation, it serves also to continue and perfect it. Without it, pride, self-will, guilty passion would spring up again like vivacious roots, but the hand of the Divine husbandman passes and cuts them off, and the sap of life, which would spread with so much vigour in wrong directions, is forced to rise and spread itself out in holy affections. Thirdly, I have indicated the action of suffering upon the heart. We must consider this side of our subject for a few moments. There is a fact which we may observe daily; it is this: when a man is for the first time smitten with disease, for the first time also he thinks that others suffer like himself; this is for him a sort of discovery; he knew the name of the disease which lays him low, but he did not really believe in its existence. We have heard of deaf and blind individuals, of persons who have suddenly become poor; we have felt for them a sincere sentiment of superficial commiseration, but if we are unexpectedly threatened with one or other of these terrible trials, then the image of those whom it has before smitten starts up before our eyes, we are surprised to find they are so many, we reproach ourselves with having too long ignored them. From this experience flows sympathy, that Divine sentiment which signifies that we suffer with others, and which has become the mightiest power of consolation the world has ever known. It is to the afflicted that God has entrusted the sublime mission of consolation; the terms widow and deaconess originally signified one and the same thing, and, in the order of joy, as in the order of mercy, it is the prerogative of the poor that they are called to enrich others. What is it, in reality, that has produced the Church and transformed the world? A unique, incomparable, inexpressible grief which has found its consummation in the sacrifice of the Cross. Finally, I have said that affliction is the means which God makes use of to awaken and entertain within us the sacred life of hope. Hope is that virtue of the soul by which we affirm that the future belongs to God. Christian hope lies not at the soul’s surface, it dwells in its innermost depths, and appears, radiant and strong, in the hour when all things fail us. Now, is it not evident that hope is the daughter of affliction? It is not those that are satisfied who hope. Those that are satisfied find their reward here below, as Jesus Christ tells Matthew 5:5-16), and that is the manifest sign of their condemnation. See the Jewish nation under the old dispensation: two nations mingle in this one nation. Throughout the history of the Church I find these two nations; if the Church is still standing, if she has not died, dishonoured by the ostentation, pride, and pollution of her representatives on the earth, by so many crimes perpetrated in the name of Jesus Christ, we owe it to those of her children who from age to age have maintained the sacred tradition of voluntary suffering and of sacrifice, and who have never ceased to expect the reign of God in righteousness and in truth. There exists, in the Roman Catholic religion, an institution which has always impressed me strongly: it is what is called perpetual adoration: in certain monastic orders, nuns relieve one another day and night, so that there are continually some praying before the Holy Sacrament. (E. Bersier, D. D.)

Chastisement--now and afterwards

I. First, we have very clearly in the text SOME CHASTISEMENTS.

1. Keeping literally to the words of the text, we observe that all which carnal reason can see of our present chastisement is but seeming. “No chastisement for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous.” All that flesh and blood can discover of the quality of affliction is but its outward superficial appearance. We are not able by the eye of reason to discover what is the real virtue of sanctified tribulation; this discernment is the privilege of faith. How very apt we are to be deceived by seemings! Understand that all that you can know about trial by mere carnal reason is no more reliable than what you can discover by your feelings concerning the motion of the earth. Nor are our seemings at all likely to be worth much when you recollect that our fear, when we are under trouble, always darken, what little reason we have. I remember one so nervous that, when going up the Monument, he assured me that he felt it shake. It was his own shaking, not the shaking of the Monument; but he was timid at climbing to an unusual height. When you and I under trial get so afraid of this and afraid of that that we cannot trust the eyesight of the flesh, we may rest assured of this, that “ things are not what they seem.” Besides, we are very unbelieving, and you know how unbelief is apt always to exaggerate the black and to diminish the bright. Added to this, over and above our unbelief there is a vast amount of ignorance, and ignorance is always the mother of dismay and consternation. In the ignorant times in this country men were always trembling at their own superstitions.

2. The text shows us that carnal reason judgeth afflictions only “for the present.” “No chastisement for the present seemeth to be joyous.” It judges in the present light, which happens to be the very worst in which to form a correct estimate. Suppose that I am under a great tribulation to-day--let it be a bodily affliction--the head is aching, the mind is agitated, am I in a fit state then to judge the quality of affliction with a distracted brain?

3. This brings me to observe that since carnal reason only sees the seeming of the thing, and sees even that in the pale light of the present, therefore affliction never seemeth to be joyous. If affliction seemed to be joyous, would, it be a chastisement at all?

4. Nay, more, the text assures us that every affliction seemeth to be grievous. Perhaps to the true Christian, who is much grown in grace, the most grievous part of the affliction is this. “Now,” saith he, “I cannot see the benefit of it; if I could I would rejoice. Instead of doing good, it really seems to do harm.” “Such a brother has been taken away just in the midst of his usefulness,” cries the bereaved friend. A wife says, “My dear husband was called away just when the children needed most his care.”

5. But now let me add that all this is only seeming. Faith triumphs in trial. There is a subject for song even in the smarts of the rod. For, first, the trial is not as heavy as it might have been; next, the trouble is not so severe as it ought to have been, and certainly the affliction is not so terrible as the burden which others have to carry.

II. We have spoken of sore afflictions; well, now, next we have BLESSED FRUIT-BEARING.

1. I want you to notice the word which goes before the fruit bearing part of the text. “No chastisement for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous; nevertheless.” Now what does that mean? That this fruit-bearing is not natural--it is not the natural effect of affliction. Trials breed discontent, anger, envy, rebellion, enmity, murmuring, and a thousand other ills; but God overruleth and makes the very thing which would make

Christians worse to minister unto their growth in holiness and spirituality. It is not the natural fruit of affliction, but the supernatural use to which God turns it in bringing good out of evil.

2. And then observe that this fruit is not instantaneous. “Nevertheless,” what is the next word?” Afterwards.” Many believers are deeply grieved because they do not at once feel that they have been profited by their afflictions. Well, you do not expect to see apples or plums on a tree which you have planted but a week.

3. Well, now, you will note in the text a sort of gradation with regard to what affliction does afterwards. “It brings forth fruit”; that is one step. That fruit is “the fruit of righteousness”; here is an advance. That righteous fruit is “peaceable”; this is the best of all.

III. And now for the third point, and that is FAVOURED SONS. “Nevertheless, afterwards it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness in them which are exercised thereby.” It is not every Christian who gets a blessing from affliction, at least, not from every affliction that he has. I conceive that the last words are inserted by way of distinction--“those that are exercised thereby.” You know there are some of the Lord’s children who, when they get a trouble, are not exercised by it, because they run away from it. There are others who, when under trouble, are callous and do not yield; they bear it as a stone would bear it; the Lord may give or take away, they are equally senseless; they look upon it as the work of blind fate, not as the fruit of that blessed predestination which is ruled by a Father’s hand. They get no benefit from tribulation; it never enters into them, they are not exercised by it. Now, you know what the word “exercised” means. In the Greek gymnasium the training master would challenge the youths to meet him in combat. He knew how to strike, to guard, to wrestle. Many severe blows the young combatants received from him, but this was a part of their education, preparing them at some future time to appear publicly in the games. He who shirked the trial and declined the encounter with the trainer received no good from him, even though he would probably be thoroughly well flogged for his cowardice. The youth whose athletic frame was prepared for future struggles was he who stepped forth boldly to be exercised by his master. If you see afflictions come, and sit down impatiently, and will not be exercised by your trials, then you do not get the peaceable fruit of righteousness; but if, like a man, you say, “Now is my time of trial, I will play the man; wake up my faith to meet the foe; take hold of God; stand with firm foot and slip not; let all my graces be aroused, for here is something to be exercised upon”; it is then that a man’s bone and sinew and muscle all grow stronger. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The good fruits of afflictions

I. WHAT ARE THOSE FRUITS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS WHICH THE DIVINE CHASTENINGS ARE SENT TO PRODUCE.

1. The mortification of our sinful lusts.

2. A more warm and active zeal and diligence in all the great duties of life and religion.

3. Another good fruit of affliction is manifest in the visible growth and improvement of those particular virtues and graces in which we have been too deficient.

II. WHY THESE ARE CALLED THE PEACEABLE FRUITS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS.

1. Because they will help us to bear afflictions with the most quiet and peaceable temper of mind whilst we are under them.

2. Because they give it an habitual peace and serenity afterwards,

III. WHO THEY ARE ON WHOM AFFLICTIONS HAVE THIS HAPPY EFFECT.

1. It is most certain that all who are under afflictions do not receive benefit by them.

2. It is not every good man that reaps all those advantages by his afflictions I before mentioned.

3. The meaning is that the Divine discipline has this design and tendency, that afflictions are in their own nature a powerful expedient to reform the mind and make the heart better, and to procure the greatest spiritual benefit to those who are exercised thereby. And

4. That they actually have this effect upon those who take a proper care to improve them. They take effect the same way that all other means do, that is, by being carefully used, attended to, and improved by us.

IV. WHAT IS NECESSARY ON OUR PART TO PROCURE THESE HAPPY FRUITS OF AFFLICTION, or in what manner we are to behave that they may actually yield to us the peaceable fruits of righteousness whenever we are exercised thereby.

1. The first thing necessary on our part in order to improve affliction is serious thought or deep self-reflection.

2. A constant watchfulness under our afflictions is equally necessary to our receiving real good from them.

3. Another means to get good by afflictions is frequent and persevering prayer.

Conclusion:

1. We hence learn that it is a great mistake to think, as some good Christians are ready to do, that all afflictions are sent in a way of anger, and are tokens of God’s.

2. From what hath been said upon this subject we may distinctly see what it is to have afflictions sanctified. Afflictions are then sanctified, and then only, when they increase our love to God, our humility, our patience, our faith, resignation, and heavenly-mindedness.

3. What reason have we to adore the wisdom and goodness of our heavenly Father in laying His children under those afflicting dispensations which are necessary to their true interest?

4. What hath been said may tend to prepare us to meet the future sufferings of life and teach us how to bear them.

5. How little reason have we to he very fond of a world so subject to vicissitude, anxiety, and sorrow! (John Mason, M. A.)

Beating out the air bubbles:

The first time I went to a potter’s house was in a very remote part of the Southern States. I do not know that what I witnessed there was a fair sample of the ruder forms of pottery, but I judge it was. I had never seen a vessel shaped on the wheel before, and I asked the potter to let me see him make one. He took a little lump of clay, but instead of putting it immediately on the wheel, he took it in one hand and began to give it very heavy blows with his fist. I almost thought he was angry with the poor clay before him, and I said, “What are you doing with it? I thought you were going to make a vessel.” “So I am, when I get it ready. I am getting the air bubbles out of it. If I were to put it on the wheel as it is, it would be spoiled ill a few moments. One of those little bubbles would mar all my work. So I beat it and beat it, and in this way get all the air out of it.” Ah! I thought, so does God have to treat us. The great difficulty with us is those little bubbles of self-conceit, of our own self-will, and sometimes of our self-righteousness--something that, in the process of God’s work, would wonderfully mar it. So He has to deal with us severely; but He is not angry with the poor clay before Him. He is not angry with us when He puts us through this process of adversity. He is only getting out of us all that would mar His blessed work. How wise it is, then, for us just to accept, with perfect simplicity, His will!

The use of a clouded sky

A sky never clouded would cause a barren earth. (Good Words.)

Experimental religion learned in sorrow:

Dr. Bushnell lost a son. When, a year or two after, he went into the country to preach for an old friend, the latter noticed an increased fervour in his preaching, and, in intimate talk, perhaps, alluded to it, when he said, earnestly, “I have learned more of experimental religion since my little boy died than in all my life before.” (Dr. Bushnell’s Life.)

Now and afterwards:

So it must ever be. Day out of night, spring out of winter, flowers out of frost, joy out of sorrow, fruitfulness out of pruning, Olivet out of Gethsemane, the ascension out of Calvary, life out of death, and the Christ that is to be out of the pangs of a travailing creation. (F. B.Meyer, B. A.)

Advantage of adversity:

Of Anna, Lady Hacket, it was said that as a ball when forcibly struck down rebounds the higher, so what had beaten down her worldly hopes raised her faith to a more steadfast persuasion that God, who is the Comforter of those who are cast down, would still be her God and guide unto death. (H. Clissold, M. A.)

Afflictions winning the heart for God

I have been all my life like a child whose father wishes to fix his undivided attention. At first the child runs about the room, but his father ties up his feet; he then plays with his hands until they likewise are tied. Thus he continues to do, till he is completely tied up. Then, when he can do nothing else, he will attend to his father. Just so has God been dealing with me to induce me to place my happiness in Him alone. But I blindly continued to look for it here, and God has kept cutting off one source of enjoyment after another, till I find that I can do without them all, and yet enjoy more happiness than ever in my life before. (E. Payson.)

Affliction sanctified

Ulrich Zwingle was a convinced reformer, and a self-denying pastor, before the plague broke out in Zurich, but that visitation was to him as life from the dead. He had returned hastily, while still an invalid, from a watering-place where he was seeking health, to minister to the dying, till struck down by the scourge himself; but when he rose again, it was with such a sight of spiritual things, and such a power of ministry, as he had never had before, so that two thousand of his fellow-citizens were soon after converted by his preaching. (J. F. B. Tinling, B. A.)

Uses of pain:

Robert Hall, although he had been admitted to membership in his father’s church at fourteen years of age, after “ a very distinct account of his being the subject of Divine grace,” believed that his moral transformation was effected much later by means of the terrible discipline of pain which interrupted his ministry, and even for a time unhinged his reason. “There can be no question that from this period he seemed more to live under the prevailing recollection of his entire dependence upon God, that his habits were more devotional than they had ever before been, his spiritual exercises more frequent and more elevated.” (J. F. B. Tinling, B. A.)

Divine harmony out of discord

As musicians sometimes go through perplexing mazes of discord in order to come to the inexpressible sweetness of after chords, so men’s discords of trouble and chromatic jars, if God be their leader, are only preparing for a resolution into such harmonious strains as could never have been raised except upon such undertones, Most persons are more anxious to stop their sorrow than to carry it forward to its choral outburst. (H. W. Beecher.)

Divine tuning:

Men think God is destroying them because He is tuning them. The violinist screws up the key till the tense cord sounds the concert pitch; but it is not to break it, but to use it tunefully, that he stretches the siring upon the musical rack. (H. W. Beecher.)

The afterward of trial

The Rev. James Hog, of Carnock, an eminent minister, was long under deep mental distress. When he had lived in Holland for a considerable time, it pleased God unexpectedly to impart a great measure of light to his mind. “Oh, how sweet,” says he, “the light was to me, who had been shut up in a dark dungeon! for sometimes I could do nothing but cry, ‘Send out Thy light and Thy truth.’ After I had thus cried, not without some experience of a gracious answer, and expectation of more, I quickly found my soul brought out of prison, and breathing in a free and heavenly air; altogether astonished at the amazing mercy and grace of God.”

The schemes of Providence but partially seen:

There is a striking passage in which a great philosopher, the famous Bishop Berkeley, describes the thought which occurred to him of the inscrutable schemes of Providence, as he saw in St. Paul’s Cathedral a fly moving on one of the pillars. “It requires,” he says, “some comprehension in the eye of an intelligent spectator to take in at one view the various parts of the building in order to observe their symmetry and design. But to the fly, whose prospect was confined to a little part of one of the stones of a single pillar, the joint beauty of the whole, or the distinct use of its parts, was inconspicuous. To that limited view the irregularities on the surface of the hewn stone seemed to be so many deformed rocks and precipices.” That fly on the pillar, of which the philosopher spoke, is the likeness of each human being as he creeps along the vast pillars which support the universe. The sorrow which appears to us nothing but a yawning chasm or hideous precipice may turn out to be but the joining or cement which binds together the fragments of our existence into a solid whole! That dark and crooked path in which we have to grope our way in doubt and fear may be but the curve which, in the full daylight of a brighter world, will appear to be the necessary finish of some choice ornament, the inevitable span of some majestic arch! (Dean Stanley.)

After the tempest:

Keen students of nature, and especially of marine life in all its forms, often welcome the tempest, because after it they frequently get their choicest specimens. In the journal of the late Dr. Coldstream it is thus written: “This morning, as the storm had subsided, I determined to go down to the sands of Leith, that I might revel in the riches that might have been cast up by the deep after the terrible storm.” So it is with believers; their very richest experiences and the choicest tokens of Divine favour are often got in and after their stormiest trials.


Verse 12-13

Hebrews 12:12-13

Lift up the hands which hang down

Christian compassion:

The words of the text are taken from Isaiah 35:3-4, and are addressed to the believing Hebrews as an admonition to comfort and encourage one another.
The disheartened among them are compared to such as had been running in a race, or sustaining a protracted conflict till their knees began to tremble, and their hands to hang down: and in this condition, those who are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak.

I. NOTICE THE RELIGIOUS STATE OF THOSE WHO ANSWER TO THE DESCRIPTION GIVES IN THE TEXT. Were we to compare Christians in general of the present day with those of the first ages, it would appear that they are grown weak and faint. We have but little of the zeal and activity which characterised the primitive Church. The description, however, is more particularly applicable to certain individual cases and characters amongst us, who need the compassion of their brethren, under their various difficulties and discouragements.

1. Some are ready to faint under difficulties and troubles of a worldly nature.

2. Some are discouraged through distrust, and groundless fears of future ills.

3. Others are distressed not only with the difficulties of life, but from being under the chastening hand of God.

4. Some are disheartened by repeated opposition from the enemies of religion.

5. Some are greatly discouraged by inward conflicts, arising from the evil propensities of their own hearts.

6. A departure from evangelical truth has weakened the strength of some by the way, and left them shorn of their dignity and glory.

7. The despondency of some good people arises no doubt from a natural gloominess in their constitution, which disposes them to dwell on the dark side of every subject rather than on the other.

II. THE DUTY OF CHRISTIANS TOWARDS ONE ANOTHER UNDER THESE DISCOURAGEMENTS. “Lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees.”

1. In order to perform this duty aright, it is necessary to exercise much tenderness and forbearance towards those who are labouring under great discouragements. Let the strong bear the infirmities of the weak, remembering that they are a part of the mystical body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:21; 1 Corinthians 12:25). The compassionate tenderness of the great Shepherd of the flock is left as a pattern for our imitation (Isaiah 40:11;Matthew 12:20).

2. Another way in which our compassion may be exercised is to point out to one another the directions and consolations of the gospel, according as the case may require; and here the tongue of the learned is necessary to speak a word in season to him that is weary.

3. Let us be concerned to remove the stumbling-block out of the way, and so to “make straight paths for their feet.”

Let us learn from hence:

1. That all our difficulties and discouragements in the ways of God arise from ourselves, and from the evil that is in the world. His ways are ways of pleasantness, and all His paths are peace.

2. How lovely and how interesting is Christian society, whose object it is to strengthen and encourage each other in the way to heaven; and how wretchedly defective must it be, if it has not this tendency!

3. How essential to the Christian character are brotherly kindness, charity, and a disinterested but affectionate concern for the spiritual and everlasting welfare of our fellow-Christians! (Theological Sketch Book.)

Of conquering discouragements:

Hands which hang down--that is the gesture of discouragement. Gesture addresses itself to the eye. Articulate speech addresses itself to the ear. Both tell the thoughts, feelings, purposes of the inner spirit. Consider

I. WHY DISCOURAGEMENT SOMETIMES IS.

1. Ill health is a very frequent reason for a discouraged mood.

2. Necessary reaction from a great strain is a frequent reason for discouragement.

3. The slighter disappointments of life in most real way shadow the spirits. There are days when the sky wears a steadily disappointing grey, and when an east wind of discouragement blows steadily through all its hours.

4. The haunting fear that in some great matter which vitally affects us we have made mistake is a frequent cause of discouragement.

5. Hostile circumstances are causes of discouragement.

6. A frequent cause of spiritual discouragement is allowed sin. We talk about the hiding of God’s face from us. Oftener we have ourselves hidden ourselves from God by doing what we know He cannot smile on.

II. SOME OF THE WAYS IN WHICH WE MAY TRIUMPH OVER THIS SO COMMON MOOD OF DISCOURAGEMENT. And we must triumph over discouragement. If we do not triumph over it, it will triumph over us. And no man can be well or do well who is in the perpetual gloom of a shadowed heart. “It is safe to say that no great enterprise was ever yet inaugurated, sustained, or completed in any other spirit than that of hope. The Suez Canal was not built, nor the ocean cable laid, nor the great war of a quarter of a century ago brought to a successful termination by men who were easily discouraged.” All these undertakings, and all undertakings of any sort, must have their root in hope. There are two ways of conquering the discouragement.

1. By the law of opposites. For example, if one finds himself shadowed by ill health, he will increase both his ill health and the shadows which it casts by perpetual thought of it and constant attention to its symptoms. The way is, as far as possible, to front health, and in all right ways to determine to reach it. The man who persistently thinks toward sickness is the man who will gather about himself the gloom of sickness. The man who persistently thinks toward health is the man who will soonest get both into it and into its sunshine. I read once of a woman who said that she always went through at least two hours of worry and despondency about her trials, and when she had cried until she had a wet handkerchief spread out to dry on every chair in the room, she thought she might cheer up a little, but she never expected to be happy in this life. “Why,” she said, “if I were happy I should think I had lost all my religion.” Too often such is the Christian notion. But God wants us to be happy; and the way out of the gloom of petty disappointments is by thought of Him and our many blessings. For example again: Nobody need be discouraged by sin, if only one will repent of it. “There is forgiveness with Thee, that Thou mayest be feared.”

2. Also, we can overcome discouragement by the law of faith. One tells how, in his youth, he and a young companion became lost in the maze at Hampton Court; they wandered about tired and discouraged, but they felt sure that they would find their way out presently, and they thought it would seem foolish to ask direction, though they saw an old man working not far off. They utterly failed, however, in getting out, and at last came to ask the old man if he could possibly tell them the path out of the maze. “Why,” he answered, “that is just what I am here for. Why did not you say you wanted to get out before?” And he put the young men at once on the right track. And that is what our Lord Jesus is for. The steady asking of Him and the following of His directions will deliver from many of life’s mazes and from its gloom. (W. Hoyt, D. D.)

Encouraging others:

At the battle of Five Forks, a soldier, wounded under his eyes, stumbled and was falling to the rear, when General Sheridan cried, “Never mind, my man; there’s no harm done.” And the soldier went on with a bullet in his brain until tie dropped dead on the field. (H. O.Mackey.)

Stimulating the discouraged:

Arago ascribes his success to words found on the paper cover of his book when greatly discouraged. They were, “Go on, sir; go on! The difficulties you meet will resolve themselves as you advance. Proceed, and light will dawn, and shine with increased clearness on your path,” written by D’Alembcrt. “That maxim,” says Arago, “was my greatest master in mathematics.” Following out these simple words, “Go on, sir; go on!” made him the first astronomical mathematician of his age. What Christians it would make of us! What heroes of faith, what sages in holy wisdom, should we become, by acting out that maxim, “Go on, sir; go on!”

The joy of sympathy:

Happy is the man who has that in his soul which acts upon the dejected as April airs upon violet roots. Gifts from the hand are silver and gold, but the heart gives that which neither silver nor gold can buy. To be full of goodness, full of cheerfulness, full of sympathy, full of helpful hope, causes a man to carry blessings of which he is himself as unconscious as a lamp is of its own shining. Such a one moves on human life as stars move on dark seas to bewildered mariners; as the sun wheels, bringing all the seasons with him from the south. (H. W. Beecher.)

Make straight paths for your feet

The Christian’s footprints

I. THE CHRISTIAN’S CORRECT WALK. Beasts, birds, and fishes make different tracks, and in a museum you will find specimens of each in the rocks which have been strata of the earth, made probably before the creation of man. And we do not have to ask which were tracks of birds or quadrupeds--it is evident. And if, in the future, somebody should find your footprints, will they be tracks of a worldling or a Christian? “He left half a million when he died,” it will be said of one. “He turned many to righteousness,” it will be said of another. Ah! that is a Christian’s track. “He toiled to destroy the works of the devil.” “He gave his goods to feed the poor.” There is one Example--Christ. He never swerved a single iota. Straight as the path of a sunbeam was His journey from the footstool to the throne.

II. THE CHRISTIAN’S HELPFUL INFLUENCE. HOW tenderly the Lord cares for the lame! You are strong, and have no need to be afraid of rough places; but perchance there is a weak and crippled brother coming after you, who will stumble and fall where you tread firmly. Think of him, and act accordingly. A father, climbing up a steep and precipitous cliff at a summer watering-place, says that, to his astonishment, he heard his little boy calling out behind him, “Take a safe path, father, for I am coming after you.” What was safe for the strong nerves and sturdy strength of the father, might be exceedingly perilous for the weak and unpractised step of the child. Therefore, the father must “make straight paths for his feet,” &c. It is a lesson running through all life and conduct. (A. J. Gordon, D. D.)

Lame sheep:

There are some believers of strong and vigorous faith. Fleet of foot, they can run and not be weary, or with steady progress they can walk, and not faint. But all are not so highly privileged. I suppose there is seldom a family which has no sickly member.

I. IN GOD’S FLOCK WHERE ARE ALWAYS SOME LAME SHEEP. There is a peril intimated here; “lest that which is lame be turned out of the way.” This is only too likely to happen. Lame sheep will commonly be found even in the tiniest flock. It will be necessary, then, to be tender of their infirmity. Some of these people of God who are compared to lame sheep seem to have been so from their birth. It is in their constitution. Do you not know some friends of yours who naturally incline to despondency? For them the road is always rugged, the pastures unsavoury, and the waters turbid. You will find such unhappy souls in all our Churches; people who seem from their very conformation to be lame as to the matters of faith, and full of doubts and fears. Besides, have you never noticed a constitutional tendency in some professors to stumble and get lame? If there is a slough, they will fall into it; if there is a thicket, they will get entangled by it; if there is an error, they will run foul of it. Good people we trust they are, and they do believe in Jesus, but somehow or other they do not see things clearly. Can you not detect, too, some who are lame in point of character? They seen to have been so from their very birth. There is a something about their gait that is unsteady. With some it is a cross temper; with others it is a general moroseness, which it does not seem as if the grace of God itself would ever cure in them; or it may be a natural indolence oppresses them; or it is quite possible that habitual impatience harasses them. Now, the grace of God should eradicate these vices; it can and will, if you yield to its influence. Other sheep of Christ’s flock are halt and lame because they have been ill-fed. Bad food is the cause of a thousand disorders. Many a sickly man, instead of being dosed with drugs, needs to be nourished with wholesome meat. Had he something better to feed upon, he might conquer his diseases. May God supply us constantly with strong meat, and sound health to digest it. Full many of the Lord’s sheep are lame because they have been worried. Sheep often get worried by a dog, and so they get lamed. It may be I am addressing some poor child of God who has been beset by Satan, the accuser of the brethren, and frightfully tormented. Oh, what trouble and what terror he can inflict upon us! Others, too, have been harassed by persecutors. Many a poor woman has lost her cheerful spirits through a harsh, ungodly husband, who has excited her fears or vexed her with sneers; and not a few dear young children have been broken down for life through the hard treatment they have had for conscience sake to endure at home. Some precious saints I have known have grown lame through a rough and weary way, just as sheep can be lamed if they are driven too fast, or too far, or over too strong a ground. To what an excess of trouble some children of God have been exposed! The Lord has graciously helped them through all their adversities. Still the trouble they have had to endure has told upon their hearts. Perhaps more still are lamed through the rough road of controversy. If you are a child of God, and you know your bearings, keep always as much as ever you can out of the jingle-jangle of controversy. Little good ever comes of your subtle disputations, but they do gender much strife. Full many of the Lord’s sheep have become lame through negligence, faintness, and the gradual declension of spiritual health. They have backslidden; they have been remiss in prayer, and forsaken communion with God, so it is no marvel that their walk betrays their weakness. Beware of catching a chill in religion. Lameness is not unfrequently the result of a fall. Saddest, most sorrowful, of all the causes of lameness this which comes through a fall into any sin. Heaven spare us from turning aside to folly!

II. DO YE ASK, THEN, WHAT HE SAYS WE ARE TO DO FOR THESE LAME ONES? Evidently, we ought to comfort them. Lift up the hands that hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees. Cheer the hearts when the limbs are weak. Tell the doubting that God is faithful. Tell those that feel the burden of sin that it was for sinners Christ died. Tell the backsliders that God never does cast away His people. Tell the desponding that the Lord delighteth in mercy. Tell the distracted the Lord doth devise means to bring back His banished. But will you please give heed to the special instruction. We are to make straight paths because of lame people. You cannot heal the man’s bad foot, but you can pick all the stones out of the path that he has to pass over. You cannot give him a new leg, but you can make the road as smooth as possible. Let there be no unnecessary stumbling-blocks to cause him pain. Do you ask me how you can observe this precept? If you have to preach the gospel, preach it plainly. Would you make straight paths, then take care that your teaching is always according to the Bible. And, in all our walk and conversation let us make straight paths to our feet as those who aim at holiness of life. Unholy Christians are the plague of the Church. The inconsistencies of professors spread dismay among weak, desponding believers. Once more let me admonish you. Do not be negligent when your Lord is so vigilant. The Lord Jesus Christ, the great Shepherd of the sheep, evidently cares for the lame ones. The charge He gives is a proof of the concern He feels. He bids us to be considerate of them, because He Himself takes a warm interest in their welfare.

III. WHAT NOW SHALL I SAY TO YOU WHO FEEL YOUR OWN WEAKNESS AND INFIRMITY? YOU lame ones who cannot walk without limping, I know bow you complain. “Ah,” say you, “I am no credit to Christianity. Though in all sincerity I do believe in Jesus, yet I fear that after all he will disown me.” When Mr. Greatheart went with Muchafraid and Feeblemind on the road to the celestial city, he had his hands full. He says of poor Mr. Feeblemind, that when he came to the lions, he said, “Oh, the lions will have me.” And he was afraid of the giants, and afraid of everything on the road. It caused Greatheart much trouble to get him on the road. It is so with you. Well, you must know that you are very troublesome and hard to manage. But then our good Lord is very patient; He does not mind taking trouble. In the Divine economy the more care you require the more care you shall have. Besides, you know somewhat of our blessed Redeemer’s covenant engagements. Did our Lord Jesus Christ fail to bring His weak ones home, it would be much to His dishonour. In your weakness lies your great strength. Jesus Christ will be sure to cover you with His power, so that when you are utterly defenceless you shall be most efficiently defended. “Ah,” says another, “I have had a weary life of it hitherto.” Yes, but you have brighter days to come. (C. H. Spurgeon.)


Verse 14

Hebrews 12:14

Follow peace.
., and holiness

The winnowing fan

I. TWO THINGS TO BE FOLLOWED. We are to follow peace and holiness; the two are consistent with each other and may be followed together. Peace is to be studied, but not such a peace as would lead us to violate holiness by conforming to the ways of unregenerate and impure men. We are only so far to yield for peace sake as never to yield a principle; we are to be so far peaceful as never to be at peace with sin: peaceful with men, but contending earnestly against evil principles. Courtesy is not inconsistent with faithfulness. It is not needful to be savage in order to be sanctified. Follow holiness, but do not needlessly endanger peace. Having thus hinted at the connection between the two, and how the two together make up a complete character, let us now take them one by one.

I. Follow PEACE, “peace with all” says the text--an amplification of the expression. Follow peace with all the Church. Hold what you believe with firmness, for you are not to trifle with God’s truth; but wherever you see anything of Christ, there confess relationship, and act as a brother towards your brother in Christ. Follow peace with all, especially with all your own relatives and friends at home. Call we that man a Christian who will not speak with his own brother? Follow peace with all your neighbours. & Christian man should not make himself hated by all around him, yet there are some who seem to fancy that they are true to their religion in proportion as they make themselves disagreeable. Win your neighbours by your willingness to oblige; disarm their opposition, if possible, by courtesy, by charitableness, by kindness. Follow peace with all--even with persecutors. The anvil after all breaks the hammer, because it bears every stroke and returns none; so be it with the Christian. The text says

II. “FOLLOW peace,” and the word “follow” indicates a hunter in pursuit of his game. He tracks the footsteps of his prey, he follows it over hill and dale, by the edge of the precipice, over the dangerous ridge, across the brook and along the river, through the wood and down the glen. Follow peace in this way; that is, do not merely be peaceful if nobody irritates you, but go out of your way to be peaceful; give up many things that you have a right to enjoy; the respect that is due to you be willing to forego; in fine, yield all but truth for peace sake. “Charity suffereth long, and is kind.” “Charity beareth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.” Often the Alpine hunter, when pursuing the chamois, will leap from crag to crag, will wear out the live-long day, will spend the night upon the mountains cold brow, and then descend to the valleys, and up again to the hills, as though he could never tire, and could never rest until he has found his prey. So perseveringly, with strong resolve to imitate your Lord and Master, follow peace with all. The next object of pursuit is a still higher attainment--would God we had reached it.

III. “Follow peace with all men, and HOLINESS.” The amplification of the term “holiness” is the solemn declaration, “without which no man shall see the Lord.” I understand by this sentence, in the first place, that no person who is unholy can see or understand Christ the Lord, or God His Father; that is to say, he does not know who Christ is so as to have any real fellowship with Him. He may know His name and know His history, and have some theoretical ideas of what the Redeemer did and is, but he cannot discern the spiritual character and teaching of the Lord. But perhaps the great meaning lies in this--without holiness no man can see the Lord in heaven at last. He will see Him on the throne of judgment, but he cannot see Him as his Friend, he cannot see Him in that beatific vision which is appointed for the sanctified, he cannot see Him so as to find joy and delight in the sight of Him. Now, see, the text says, “Follow holiness”; follow it, that is to say, you will not gain it by standing still. Nobody ever grew holy without consenting, desiring, and agonising to be holy. Sin will grow without sowing, but holiness needs cultivation. You must pursue it with determination, with eagerness, with long-continued perseverance, as a hunter pursues his prey.

II. Two THINGS TO BE AVOIDED. “Looking diligently, lest any man fail of the grace of God.” The first thing to be avoided is failure. There are some persons who for a time exhibit many outward evidences of being Christians, but at last the temptation comes most suitable to their depraved tastes, and they are carried away with it. They fail of the grace of God. Like a man in business who makes money for a time, but fails in the end. Some have maintained an admirable character to all appearance all their lives, and yet have failed of the grace of God because of some secret sin. It says, “Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God.” The word is “ episcopountes,” a word which signifies overseeing, being true bishops, looking diligently as a man on the watchtower watches for the coming foe. See the sentry pace the rampart, he looks in one direction and he sees the brushwood stirred, he half thinks it is the foe, and suspects an ambush there; he looks to the front, across the sea, does he not discern a sail in the distance? The attack may be from the seaboard; he looks to the right, across the plain, and if even a little dust should move he watches lest the foe should be on foot. So in the Church of God each one should be on his watchtower for himself and for others, watching diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God. The second thing to be avoided is uprising evil: “Lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled.” In the centre of my lawn horse-radish will sprout up; after the smallest shower of rain it rises above the grass and proclaims its vitality. There was a garden there once, and this root maintains its old position. When the gardener cuts it down, it resolves to rise again. Now, if the gardener cannot get it quite out of the ground, it is his business constantly to cut it down. We are but men, and even when associated in church-fellowship, each one brings his own particular poisonous root, and there are sure to be bad roots in the ground. We are to watch diligently lest any of these poisonous roots spring up, for if they do they will trouble us. Sill and error always bring sorrow and division, and thereby many are defiled. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The ideal life:

How beautiful and solemn are these words, like the swelling cadence of heaven’s own music. Evidently they do not emanate from this sorrow-stricken and warring world; they are one of the laws of the kingdom of heaven, intended to fashion our life on earth.

I. THERE IS OUR ATTITUDE TOWARDS GOD. “Follow after holiness.” In

R.V. this is rendered “sanctification.” And this in turn is only a Latinequivalent for “setting apart,” as Sinai among mountains, the Sabbath among the days of the week, the Levites among the Jews, and the Jews among the nations of the earth. But after all there is a deeper thought. Wily were people, places, and things, set apart? Was it not because God was there. We can never be holy apart from God, but when God enters the spirit of man, He brings holiness with Him. Nay, the presence of God in mall is holiness. He is the holy man in whom God dwells. He is the holier, in whom God dwells more fully. He is the holiest, who, however poor his intellect and mean his earthly lot, is most possessed and filled by the presence of God through the Holy Ghost (1 Corinthians 1:2; 1 Corinthians 6:19). Why then does the sacred writer bid us “follow after holiness,” as though it were an acquisition? Because, though holiness is the in-filling of man’s spirit by the Spirit of God, yet there are certain very important conditions to be observed by us, if we would secure and enjoy that blessed gift.

1. Give self no quarter. It is always asserting itself in one or other of its Protean shapes. It may show itself in religious pride, in the satisfaction with which we hear ourselves remarked for our humility. It will need incessant watchfulness, because where self is there God cannot come. He will not share His glory with another.

2. Yield to God. He is ever seeking the point of least resistance in our natures. Help Him to find it, and when found, be sure to let Him have His blessed way.

3. Take time to it. This is not natural, but it may become as second nature by habitual diligence.

II. THERE IS OUR ATTITUDE TOWARDS MEN. “Follow after peace.” The effect of righteousness is always peace. If you are holy, you will be at peace. Peace is broken by temptation, but the holy soul has learnt to put Christ between itself and the first breath of the tempter. Peace is broken by care, dissatisfaction, and unrest, but the Lord stands round the holy soul, as do the mountains round Jerusalem, which shield off the cruel winds, and collect the rain which streams down their broad sides to make the dwellers in the valleys rejoice and sing. Others may be fretful and feverish, the subjects of wild alarms, but there is perfect peace to the soul which has God, and is satisfied. But there must be a definite following after peace. The temperaments of some are so trying. Hence the need of endeavour and patience and watchfulness, that we may exercise a wholesome influence as peacemakers.

1. Avoid becoming a party to a quarrel. It takes two to make a quarrel: never be one.

2. If opposed to the malice of men, do not avenge yourselves. Our cause is more God’s than it is our own. It is for Him to vindicate us, and He will.

3. Do not give cause of offence. If you are aware of certain susceptibilities on the part of others, where they may be easily irritated, avoid touching them, if you can do so without being a traitor to God’s holy truth.

III. THERE IS OUR ATTITUDE TOWARDS OUR FELLOW CHRISTIANS. “Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God.” It is a beautiful provision that love to a common Lord attracts us into the fellowship of His disciples, and as no individual life truly develops in solitariness, so no Christian is right or healthy who isolates himself from the communion of saints. But we go not there only for selfish gratification, but that we may look after one another, not leaving it to the officers of the host; but each doing our own share. There are three dangers.

1. The laggards. This is the meaning of “fail.” The idea is borrowed from a party of travellers, some of whom lag behind, as in the retreat from

Moscow, to fall a prey to Cossacks, wolves, or the awful sleep. Let us who are in the front ranks, strong and healthy, go back to look after the weaklings, who loiter to their peril.

2. The root of bitterness. There may be some evil root lurking in some heart, hidden now, but which will bear a terrible harvest of misery to many. So was it in Israel once, when Achan conceived thoughts of covetousness, and brought evil on himself, and mourning on the host whose defeat he had brought about. If we can discover the presence of such roots of bitterness, let us, with much searching of our own souls, humility, and prayer, root them out, ere they can spring up to cause trouble.

3. The profane and earthly minded. Of these Esau is the type, “who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright.” Alas! are there not many such? For one momentary gratification of the flesh, they forfeit not their salvation perhaps (we are not told that even Esau forfeited that), but their power to lead, to teach, to receive and hand on blessing to the Church. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)

Follow peace

I. THE NATURE OF THE DUTY REQUIRED: “Follow peace.” The word “follow” is full of meaning. It implies strong desire, and vigorous endeavour; both the inward and outward man are to be engaged in this necessary and delightful service. It is also implied that we shall meet with many obstacles and difficulties in the way, both from the corruptions of our own hearts, and the perverse disposition of others: so that we shall need invincible perseverance.

1. In following after peace, we must pray that our own hearts and the hearts of others may be inclined to peace; we to propose, and they to accept it, and both to maintain it when once it has been established.

2. It becomes us to avoid whatever might become an obstacle to peace. Pride must be mortified; the pride of riches, of talents, and of reputation. Let us also beware of covetousness; for the love of money has separated those who would otherwise have been happily united. In order to preserve peace it is necessary also to discountenance slander and reproach, and to guard against ill-grounded jealousies and evil surmisings. Nothing can prosper where these propensities are indulged; they are the bane of confidence, and the rottenness of friendship.

3. We must endeavour to exercise those graces which have a pacific and uniting tendency. Of this description are humility, meekness, and love. Of the exercise of such virtues it may be said, as Tertullus did of the actions of Felix, by them we enjoy much quietness.

4. As the desire of peace should excite to the exercise of grace, so also to the faithful discharge of duty. We should do unto others, as we would have others in like circumstances do unto us. It becomes us to be courteous in our deportment, neither envious of those in superior circumstances, nor haughty towards others whom providence has placed beneath us. Let us also forget ill services, and requite good ones. Above all, let us mark those who would sow the seeds of strife, and avoid them, as we would a rock or quicksand, or a house infected with the plague.

5. Let us remember that a mild and peaceable disposition is one of the greatest ornaments to the Christian character. In this we shall resemble the ever blessed God, who is emphatically styled the God of peace. Jesus is also called the Prince of Peace, and His gospel is the gospel of peace; His followers therefore ought to be men of peace.

II. THE EXTENT OF THE DUTY: “FOLLOW peace with all men.”

1. We must follow after peace with men of all ranks and conditions in life. We should behave with reverence towards those above us, and with courtesy towards those below us; avoiding on the one hand a proud spirit, and on the other, whatever is mean and grovelling.

2. With men of various tempers and dispositions. If masters are froward, servants should he submissive. If neighbours are unkind, ye must be patient towards them, and towards all men. Virtue of every kind shines the brighter, when contrasted with its opposite, and gains a victory over it.

3. We must follow peace with men of every character and description, let their principles be what they may; with the righteous and the unrighteous, with both saints and sinners, in (he Church and in the world.

4. Christians of other denominations, and of different religious sentiments, are entitled to our attention and benevolent regard.

5. We must follow peace, even with our enemies. We must do good, where nothing but evil is to be expected in return. (B. Beddome, M. A.)

The duty of following peace with all men

I. Attend to THE EXPLANATION OF THE TEXT, “Follow peace with all men.”

1. Consider, in the first place, the object which you must follow--peace with all men. All believers in Christ are the children of peace, and therefore, as far as is possible, they must live peaceably with all men. What is it that constitutes the happiness of heaven? It is the perfect and everlasting reign of peace.

2. That peace which we ought to cultivate sometimes flies away. That peace often departs from nations cannot be denied; that it often flies away front families is equally evident; and that it is not always found in the Church is a matter of deep and bitter lamentation.

3. When peace has departed it must be followed: “follow peace.” Some imagine that if they had no hand in driving peace away, nothing is required from them to bring it back again. But though the driving away of peace from a congregation may have been the work of a few, it is the duty of all to endeavour to bring it back again. Others, again, say, We will not prevent the return of peace, we wilt sit still and wait for its return, and when it comes we will give it a most hearty welcome. This is well so far as it goes, but it is not enough. In the pursuit of peace there must be mutual forgiveness. Have you obtained forgiveness of God? then you will reckon it both your duty and your privilege to forgive others. And be it remarked farther, that this forgiveness must be frank, and hearty, and open. In the pursuit of peace you must sacrifice your feelings, your prejudices, your angry passions, and even your interests. Blessed are the peace-makers; and blessed especially are those who make the greatest sacrifices to maintain, or to restore peace. In the pursuit of peace everything must be avoided which has a tendency to prevent the return of peace. The grounds of difference should be buried in perpetual oblivion. Even angry, discontented, suspicious looks must be avoided. A man can fight with his eyes, as well as with his tongue, or with his hands; as, therefore, there must be hearts of love, and actions of love, there must be also looks of love. In the pursuit of peace you must abound in prayer.

II. THE GREAT DUTY OF FOLLOWING PEACE MIGHT BE ENFORCED BY MANY CONSIDERATIONS.

1. The authority of God enjoins this duty. God hath called us to peace. The fruit of the Spirit is peace. If, therefore, you desire to enjoy the favour of God, which is life; or if you dread the anger of God, which is perdition, follow peace with all men.

2. Consider the Master whom you profess to serve. Is He not the Prince of Peace? Has He not made peace by the blood of His Cross? Is not His gospel, which you all profess to believe, the gospel of peace?

3. Consider the injury which you do to the Church by these unseemly contentions.

4. Consider that the hour of death is coming. You cannot die comfortably if you are not at peace with all mankind. Hasten, then, in pursuit of peace, and give yourself no rest until you have overtaken it and brought it back. (W. Smart.)

The peaceful temper:

There are many particular duties in which Christianity and worldly wisdom meet, both recommending the same course. One of these is the duty mentioned in the text, viz., that of being at peace with others. A wise adviser of this world tells any one who consults him as to his conduct in life, to beware especially of getting into quarrels with people. He tells him not only to avoid actual quarrels, but to cultivate a peaceful temper. The gospel tells us to do the same. The reason which worldly prudence suggests is the quiet and happiness of life, which are interfered with by relations of enmity to others. The reason which religion gives is the duty of brotherly-love, of which the peaceful disposition is a part. But the frequency of the advice, under either aspect, is remarkable, and shows that there is some strong prevailing tendency in human nature to which it is opposed. When we examine, then, the tempers of men, to see what there is in them which is so strongly opposed to this precept of following peace, the first thing we observe is, that people rush into quarrels from simple violence and impetuosity of temper, which prevents them from waiting a single minute to examine the merits of the case, and the facts of the case, but carries them forward possessed with a blind partiality in their own favour, and seeing nothing but what favours their own side. Again, there is the malignant temper, which fastens vindictively upon particular persons, who have been either the real or supposed authors of some disadvantage. Men of this character pursue a grudge unceasingly, and never forget or forgive. But impetuosity and malignity are not the only tempers which are opposed to the law of peace, and to the peaceful disposition. There are some very common habits of mind, which, without being so conspicuous in their manifestations, lead to a great deal of enmity of a certain kind--sometimes open enmity, sometimes, when this is avoided, still to bad relations towards others. There are many persons who can never be neutral or support a middle state of mind. If they do not positively like others, they will see some reason for disliking them; they will be irritable if they are not pleased; they will be enemies if they are not friends. They cannot bear to be in an attitude of mind which does not give active employment to the feelings on one side or the other. On this principle many of their neighbours are eyesores to them and the very sight of them interrupts their repose, when there is no real occasion for any such feelings; inasmuch as if they have furnished no cause for pleasure, they have not furnished any cause for pain either. And now, what I want to observe is, how completely this rule is opposed to the law which the apostle lays down, of “following peace with all men.” When we examine what the relation of peace is, we find that it is exactly that relation towards others which the temper I have described has such a difficulty in adopting, and which is so repugnant to its taste. It is not a state of active love and affection, for these we do not call being at peace, but something more: nor is it a state which admits of any ill-feeling; but it lies between the two, comprehending all kindly intentions, forbidding the least wish for another’s injury, avoiding, as much as possible, dispute and occasion of offence; consulting order, quiet, and contentment, but not arriving at more than this. Peace implies the entire absence of positive ill-will. The apostle then says that this is our proper relation toward all men. More than this applies to some, but as much as this applies to all. He would have us embrace all men within our love, so far as to be in concord with them, not to be separated from them. Be in fellowship, he says, with all men, so far as to have nothing wrong in your relation to them, nothing to disunite: follow peace with all men. Is any other principle of conduct and kind of temper indeed fit for this world in which we live? The great mass of those even whom we know and meet with in the intercourse and business of life must be comparatively nothing to us. More than this, they must be often persons who are not made after a model that we like, persons who do not sympathise with us or elicit sympathy from us. True and genuine intercourse and communication between minds, if it could be obtained, might clear up a good deal of this cloud, and remove the barrier which separates one man from another: but this is not given, and if it were, there still remains dissimilarity of tempers, gifts, and tastes, The apostle then lays down a plain rule with respect to the whole of this large section--viz., to be at peace with them. I have shown that there is a kind of temper and disposition which, without impetuosity, and without malignity, is still in opposition to the law of peace, and does in fact produce a great deal of latent, if not open enmity, in the world. I will now mention one or two reasons which have a great deal to do in promoting this temper. In the first place, it is very irksome to keep watch over ourselves, and to repel the intrusion of hostile thoughts by the simple resistance of conscience, when we are not assisted by any strong current of natural feeling in doing so. This is a difficult duty. But those who say that they either like or dislike, avoid and evade this duty. Another reason which tends to keep up the disposition which I have been describing is, that the hostile class of relations are evidently accompanied by their own pleasures in many temperaments. They furnish an excitement to them; and, at the bottom, they prefer it to a state of peace on this account, because there is agitation and a flutter of spirits in this relation; whereas peace is repose, and does not offer this play to the mind and temper. They would rather a great deal be in a state of irritation with any person for any reason than feel at all dull. To be dull is the greatest trial to them. They will stir up the scene at any rate, even at the cost of renewing vexatious subjects. It breaks the level of life; it varies the flatness of it. It is a stimulant; it keeps the spirits in motion. So, too, is the justification of dislike; the explanation how it arose and was called for. All this is much more to the taste of many than being at peace. They are not conscious of any deep malignity, but they derive a pleasure still from the disturbance of the ground, the agitation of the elements of life, which they take care shall not subside into complete repose. It was with the entire knowledge of these weaknesses and frailties of human nature, and these elements of disturbance, even in minds of average goodness, that St. Paul said--“Follow peace with all men.” You must not, he says, be at peace only with those to whom you are partial; that is easy enough; you must be at peace with those toward whom you entertain no partiality, who do not perhaps please you, or suit you. That is the rule of peace which the gospel lays down, and it must be fulfilled by standing guard at the entrance of our hearts, and keeping off intruding thoughts. And he says again that we must not seek excitement from the petty quarrels and discords of life, from prejudice and antipathies, and the commotion which is bred out of them. This is a poor and morbid pleasure which impoverishes and lowers every mind that indulges in it. Let us “follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.” It is not without design that these two were connected together by the apostle--following peace and holiness. A life of enmities is greatly in opposition to growth in holiness. All that commotion of petty animosity in which some people live, is very lowering, it dwarfs the spiritual growth of persons. In a state of peace the soul lives as in a watered garden, where, under the watchful eye of the Divine Source, the plant grows and strengthens. All religious habits and duties--prayer, charity, and mercy, are formed and matured when the man is in a state of peace with others--with all men; when he is not agitated by small selfish excitements and interests which divert him from himself and his own path of duty, but can think of himself, what he ought to do, and where he is going. (J. B.Mozley, D. D.)

A patterer of peace

I. WHAT IS THIS PEACE? Peace is threefold.

1. Above us: namely, reconciliation with God.

2. Within us: namely, an inward conformity of sanctified faculties, of mind, will, and affections.

3. Without us: with the creatures, especially with man, which our text speaketh of. And this external peace of man with man is nothing else but an holy agreement and consent of minds, speeches, and carriage in all good things.

II. WHAT IT IS TO FOLLOW PEACE.

1. Seek it out, and beat it out, as dogs at a loss: if we cannot find the track in one place, seek it in another.

2. Follow it with earnestness, as hunters follow their game earnestly, with strong intention, not as on a cold scent.

3. With desire to take it; for so do they.

4. With pleasure and delight in taking it. Our souls must delight in the purchase of peace. Thus Abraham hunted after peace with Lot, and obtained.

III. WITH WHOM MUST WE FOLLOW PEACE? With all men. To embrace peace with good men is not hard for a good man; for they will hardly be put out of the way, and are soon led in again; but to hold peace with evil men is praiseworthy. But with some men we must not have peace, and with many men we cannot have peace. For the former: Israel must never seek the peace of Moabites and Ammonites (Deuteronomy 23:6), and the same of the Canaanites (Ezra 9:11). If it be so by special revelation, which is no rule for the common course. But peace cannot be had with all men; some will not be at peace: wicked men will have no peace with godly men. As soon shall you reconcile darkness to light, fire and water, heaven and hell, as Cain and Abel, Isaac and Ishmael, Jews and Samaritans.

1. Though we cannot have it with all men, we must follow it with all men. If thou seekest it though thou canst not find it, it is enough for thee. First, so far as is possible (Romans 12:18). If it be not possible to recover peace but upon bad conditions, let it go; we must prefer many things before peace, as

A life of peace and kindness:

Dean Stanley said to the crowd of children at Westminster Abbey, on Innocents’ Day, December 28th: “I knew once a very famous man, who lived to be very old--who lived to be eighty-eight. He was always the delight of those about him. He always stood up for what was right. His eye was like an eagle’s when it flashed fire at what was wrong. And how early do you think he began to do this? I have an old grammar which belonged to him, all tattered and torn, which he had when a little boy at school; and what do you think I found written, in his own hand, in the very first page? Why, these words: ‘ Still in thy right hand carry gentle peace, to silence vicious tongues--be just, and fear not.’ That was his rule all through life, and he was loved and honoured down to the day when he was carried to his grave.” Peaceable holiness:--It was a saying of the pious Richard Baxter, recorded by himself in the “History of his own Times”: “While we wrangle here in the dark we are dying, and passing to that world which will decide all our controversies: and the safest passage thither is by peaceable holiness.”

God’s love of peace:

Of all the birds the dove is the most easily alarmed and put to flight at hearing a shot fired. Remember that the Holy Ghost is compared to a dove; and if you begin to shoot at each other, the Heavenly Dove will take wing and instantly leave you. The Holy Spirit is one of love and peace, not of tumult and confusion. He cannot live among the smoke and noise of fired shots: if you would grieve the Holy Spirit and compel Him to retire, you have only to commence firing at one another, and He will instantly depart. (Williams of Wern.)

The evil of disunion:

When the troops of Monmouth were sweeping the bridge (at the battle of Bothwell Brig), and Claverhouse, with his dragoons, was swimming the Clyde, the Covenanters, instead of closing their ranks against their common foe, were wrangling about points of doctrine and differences of opinion. In consequence, they were scattered by enemies whom, if united, they might have withstood and conquered. (T. Guthrie.)

Christianity and war:

Dr. Gutzlaff, who spent three years as a missionary in Siam, said: “The Siamese looked with great anxiety upon the part which the English would take in the war between Quedah and themselves. When the king first heard of their neutrality, he exclaimed: ‘ I beheld, finally, that there is some truth in Christianity, which formerly I considered very doubtful.’ This favourable opinion influenced the people to become friendly with us. The consequence was that we gained access to persons of all ranks and of both sexes.” (Tinling’s Illustrations.)

Holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord

The highest end of being, and the only way to reach it

I. THE HIGHEST END OF BEING. TO “see the Lord” means to have loving fellowship with Him who is infinite Love.

II. THE ONLY WAY TO REACH IT. “Holiness.”

1. God cannot be so seen as to be admired through the medium of a corrupt heart.

2. God cannot be so seen as to be admired, through the medium of a guilty conscience.

CONCLUSION:

1. This subject serves to expose some popular religious errors.

2. This subject serves to show the infinite value of the work of Christ.

3. This subject serves to reveal wherein true wisdom consists.

Holiness

I. THE BLESSINGS OF HOLINESS.

II. THE WAY TO HOLINESS.

1. Grace is the source of it.

2. Constant progress is necessary to it.

3. Diligence is a requisite in it.

III. THE MOTIVES TO HOLINESS,

1. Troublers are destroyed by it.

2. Backsliding is prevented by it.

3. Influence for good is increased by it.

4. There is no heaven without it. (Homilist.)

Holiness demanded

I. First, then, YE ARE ANXIOUS TO KNOW WHETHER YE HAVE HOLINESS OR NOT. NOW, if our text said that without perfection of holiness no man could have any communion with Christ, it would shut every one of us out, for no one, who knows his own heart, ever pretends to be perfectly conformed to God’s will. It does not say, “Perfection of holiness,” mark; but “ holiness.” This holiness is a thing of growth. As the Spirit of God waters it, it will grow till the mustard-seed shall become a tree. Well, now, let us note four sorts of people who try to get on without holiness.

1. First, there is the Pharisee. The Pharisee goes to work with outward ceremonies.

2. Then there is the moralist. He has never done anything wrong in his life. Ah, but this is not holiness before God.

3. Another individual who thinks to get on without holiness, and who does win a fair reputation in certain circles, is the experimentalist. You must be aware that there are some professed followers of Christ whose whole religious life is inward; to tell you the truth, there is no life at all; but their own profession is that it is all inward. You may say what you will about what you dream you have felt, you may write what you please about what yon fancy you have experienced; but if your own outward life be unjust, unholy, ungenerous, and unloving, you shall find no credit among us as to your being in Christ. “Without holiness no man shall see the Lord.”

4. There is another class of persons, happily fewer than they once were, but still there are some among us still--opinionists, who think they can do without holiness. They have learned a sound creed, or perhaps an unsound one; they think they have got hold of the truth, that they are the men, and that when they die the faithful will fail from among men. They understand theology very accurately. They are wiser than their teachers. Down with thy hopes! Heart-work, carried out afterwards into life-work, this is what the Lord wants, You may perish as well with true doctrines as with false, if you pervert the true doctrine into licentiousness.

5. But to help you still further, brethren, that man is destitute of true holiness who can look back upon his own past sin without sorrow.

6. And I am quite sure that you know nothing of true holiness if you can look forward to any future indulgence of sensual appetites with a certain degree of delightful anticipation.

7. Again, methinks you have great cause for questioning, unless your holiness is uniform. Some farmers I know in the country maintain a creditable profession in the village where they live; they go to a place of worship, and very good people they are: but there is a farmers’ dinner once a year; it is only once a year--we will not say anything about how they get home--the less that is said the better for their reputation. “It is only once a year,” they tell us; but holiness does not allow of dissipation even “ once a year.” And we know some who, when they go on the Continent, for instance, say, “Well, we need not be quite so exact there”; and therefore the Sabbath is utterly disregarded, and the sanctities of daily life are neglected, so reckless are they in their recreations. Well, if your religion is not warranted to keep in any climate it is good for nothing.

8. Then, let me further remark, that those who can look with delight or any degree of pleasure upon the sins of others are not holy.

II. Now, then, for the second point: “WITHOUT HOLINESS NO MAN SHALL SEE THE LORD”; that is to say, no man can have communion with God in this life, and no man can have enjoyment with God in the life to come without holiness. “Can two walk together except they be agreed?” If thou goest with Belial dost thou think Christ will go with thee?

III. I come to my last point, which is PLEADING WITH YOU. “What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” “Without holiness no man shall see the Lord.” But I hear one say, “It is impossible; I have tried it and I have broken down: I did try to get better, but I did not succeed; it is of no use, it cannot be done.” You are right, my dear friend, and you are wrong. You are right, it is of no use going about it as you did; if you went in your own strength, holiness is a thing you cannot get; it is beyond you. But you are wrong to despair, for Christ can do it; He can do it for you, and He can begin it now. Believe on Him and He will begin with you; in fact, that believing will be the fruit of His having begun with you. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Holiness alone fits for heaven

I. HOLINESS MAY BE CONSIDERED AS OBEDIENCE TO THE LAW OF GOD, OR AS CONFORMITY TO HIS MORAL CHARACTER. It is, however, quite immaterial which definition we adopt. As “love is the fulfilling of the law,” and as “ God is love,” to obey the law, is to be like God in moral character.

II. HOLINESS IS THIS WORLD IS INDISPENSABLE TO OUR HAPPINESS IN ANOTHER,

1. It is so by the unalterable appointment of God.

2. It appears from the character of God.

3. From the fact that none of the sources or means of happiness, which the wicked possess in this world, will exist in heaven.

4. From the fact that the character of man becomes unchangeable at death.

5. From the nature of the soul.

6. If we consider what heaven is. Every being there reflects the image of God. Everything we hear in that world is the voice of praise and thanksgiving--the universal burst of gratitude, and wonder, and love, in songs of joy and transport, filling all its arches, and making all its pillars tremble.

Remarks:

1. Every impenitent sinner may be convinced, from his own experience, of the necessity of a new heart to fit him for heaven.

2. Christian brethren, “what manner of persons ought ye to he in all holy conversation and godliness?” (N. W. Taylor, D. D.)

Holiness

Valuable as peace is, we are not to sacrifice truth or righteousness in order to obtain it.

I. EXPLAIN THE EXHORTATION: “Follow after holiness.” Men in general make no pretension to holiness; and some who do, know not what it is. Many imagine that it consists merely in chastity, or putting a restraint upon the sensual appetite, which is only a particular branch of that purity to which we are here exhorted. Others suppose that it extends no farther than to outward decency of conduct, or general regularity of behaviour. Though these things do not constitute real holiness, but fall very far short of it; neither does it imply an absolute freedom from all imperfections as some have vainly imagined. Sorrow for sin, and a hatred of it, take place in every renewed heart, but not an entire exemption from its being. Holiness, however, though it is not in the present life what some make it to be, nor what the saints wish it to be, yet it is the beauty and ornament of the soul. All moral excellences are included in it; and all spiritual consolation, which is the most satisfying, is derived from it. It is our brightest resemblance to God; our principal glory in this world, and our highest happiness in the next.

1. Holiness is the fruit of sovereign and effectual grace (Ezekiel 36:25-26).

2. True holiness is seated in the heart. It is not an outward name, but an inward nature; a Divine principle implanted.

3. Holiness is not a single grace, but an assemblage of all the graces, and extends to all the duties of the Christian life. It is not like a single luminary, but a constellation, where numerous planets intermingle their lustre and their beauty, and give additional brightness to the whole. It is not meekness, humility, faith, hope, or charity; but all these united. Thus the Church, the spouse of Christ, is described as coming up out of the wilderness, perfumed with myrrh, and frankincense, and all powders of the merchant.

4. All true holiness in man is through the mediation of Christ, and is derived from Him as the Head of His mystical body. In Him it is concentrated, like light in the sun; in us it is as light in the air, emanating from His fulness. We begin to be holy when we begin to know Christ; and we grow in holiness as we increase in the knowledge of Him. Real saints are a living image of the invisible Saviour.

5. True holiness is an abiding principle, consisting in the habitual rectitude of all the powers and faculties of the soul. It is a well of water springing up, amidst innumerable obstructions, to eternal life; a light that shineth more and more unto the perfect day. Those who seek after holiness, shall always find it; and those who love it shall never lose it.

6. We are to “follow” after holiness, so as to make it the object of intense and continual pursuit; to leave no duty unperformed, no means untried, in order to obtain it in a still higher degree. For this purpose let us search the Holy Scriptures, attend upon holy ordinances, keep company with holy men, and be daily conversant with holy things. Above all, let us earnestly implore the powerful influences of the Holy Spirit.

II. CONSIDER THE MOTIVE by which the exhortation is enforced: “without holiness no man shall see the Lord.”

1. Observe, “no man,” no individual, not one of all the human race, whatever be his expectations or attainments, whatever opinion he may have of himself, or whatever opinion others may entertain concerning him.

2. He shall not “ see the Lord.” It is as it were written over the gate of heaven, Nothing enters here that defileth. The wicked shall indeed have a sight of God, in some respects; but it shall be to their everlasting sorrow and confusion. They shall behold Him as Balaam did, but not nigh; at an awful unapproachable distance they shall see Him, but not for themselves; as a Judge and Avenger, but not as a Friend or a Father.

3. “Without holiness “ no man shall see the Lord. Not that holiness is the meritorious or procuring cause of salvation; for when we have done all that we can do, even through Divine assistance, we are unprofitable servants. Holiness accompanies salvation, and prepares for it, but not in a way of desert. Nevertheless, holiness is absolutely necessary to eternal life

Holiness essential to a sight of Christ:

There are, unhappily, many who will talk of the everlasting covenant, and of the inscription of their own names on its pages, with as much assurance as though God had made them a special revelation; and it were at least to be expected, that with all this assumption of superior revelation there should keep pace a striving after superior holiness. It were, at least, to be hoped, that they who pronounce themselves sure of heaven, would put forth more than ordinary tokens of an increasing fitness for heaven; for it is indeed a strange anomaly if, knowing as we do, that there shall enter into the New Jerusalem nothing that defileth, and nothing that worketh abomination, men who have a title of admission, chartered and signed, may go on in recklessness and unrighteousness of living; and too commonly they who are fondest of solving all doubts by an appeal to God’s covenant, are just those who could obtain no satisfactory verdict from their own life and conversation. Our business is not so much the depending on our election as the ascertaining our election; and it is, therefore, to use the mildest language, a beginning at the wrong end, when men assume that they are elected, and then go on to be confident. The safe and the direct course is to observe whether they are changed men, and renewed men, and God-fearing men, and then to infer, though with the very deepest humility, that they are elected men. We have no such text in the Bible as this--“Election, without which no man shall see the Lord”; but we have this--“Holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.” We go on to observe that there is a peculiarity in the expression, “no man shall see the Lord,” which marks a reference to the present life yet more than to the future. “Every eye shall see Him,” is St. John’s declaration, when looking on to the Second Advent of Christ. We know that without a single exception the descendants of Adam shall stand face to face with the anointed Judge of human kind, so that the holy and the unholy shall alike behold Him, though the one rejoicingly, while the other shall shrink from His presence; and therefore we cannot uphold it as literally true, that “without holiness no man shall see the Lord,” if it be on the future that we mainly fix our contemplations. But a most extensive, and at the same time a most interesting field of inquiry will open before you, if we consider the words as applicable to the present life, though, of course, without excluding a reference to the next life. The passage would seem decidedly to announce, that holiness, in some degree or other, is indispensable to the obtaining any knowledge whatever of Christ. We admit, indeed, that a thorough historical acquaintance may be obtained, whilst there is a bold persisting in a course of iniquity. But our text shows, that to whatever extent this scholastic knowledge of the scheme and nature of Christianity can be ascribed, there can be gained no sight of Christ Jesus Himself until some inroads be made on the sinfulness of our nature. And when a man is converted, and therefore “renewed in the spirit of his mind”--that is, the organ is obtained through which the Lord is beheld--the strength and clearness of his looking upon Christ will ever after be exactly proportioned to the advance of sanctification. If the Christian fall into gross sin, or if he conform himself to the passions and prejudices of the world, or if he encumber himself unnecessarily with cares and anxieties, the retardation in holiness will tell on the strength of the newly-acquired vision, and the view of Christ will become so obscure, that fresh witness will be given to the fact of holiness being indispensable to seeing the Lord. And, on the other hand, let the Christian be prosecuting an uncompromising warfare with corruption--let him be proceeding daily with a dominant step towards higher attainments in practical piety, and you will find that his sight of the Redeemer is continually improving. The mysteries of Christ’s person, the loveliness of His character, the might of His attributes, these open increasingly and shine out more vividly; and thus there is gathered an accession of proof that holiness is indissolubly connected with seeing the Lord. We would never give up that grand fundamental principle that faith is the gift of God, and that, consequently, no man can see the Lord, according to the definition we have sought to establish, unless a telescope, so to speak, be put into his hands by the Holy Ghost, and directed towards that illustrious Being in whom the natural eye discerns nothing of comeliness or form. But at the same time we are to the full as anxious to withstand the unwarranted opinion, that there can be no preparation made by the man himself; that because faith must be strictly the gift of God, all we have to do is to wait for its reception. We are assured from the Bible that it is very possible to resist the Holy Ghost, and to grieve the Holy Ghost, and that, consequently, the case is of common occurrence in which this Divine agent comes unto men, bringing with him the telescope, or the organ of vision, and then opposed by their passions and lusts, departs without bestowing the precious donation. And hence we set it forth as an indisputable position that it lies in man’s power, and is manifestly man’s business to remove impediments to the operations of God’s Spirit, and that though he cannot give himself the Spirit, he may throw off very much that may withstand the approaches of that Spirit. Let us go on to endeavour to show you how holiness would affect the clearness of all future contemplations of Christ. There remains nothing to be added to the work of the Saviour, in order that it may be available to the complete justification of the sinner. But, then, does imputed righteousness at all interfere with personal holiness? Not one jot. There is to be wrought in us a righteousness which is quite independent of that perfect righteousness which has been wrought out for us by Christ. The righteousness of Christ is that meritorious righteousness which deserves for us heaven; the righteousness which is wrought in our spirits is that qualifying righteousness which prepares us for heaven. And if it be thus certain that holiness, personal, inwrought holiness, is essential to that sight of the Lord which shall constitute the great bliss of heaven, we may justly argue that it is essential to those contemplations of the Saviour which are our foretastes of that bliss whilst we sojourn upon earth. And this, in other words, is the proposition laid down in our text, though the proof of that proposition may be thrown into easier and yet more popular shape. How can the man who is falling back into sin have his eye upon Christ, who condemned sin in the flesh? How can the individual who, after professedly renouncing the world, suffers himself to be entangled in its follies and allured by its flatteries, be looking fixedly towards Christ--Christ who said, “Marvel not if the world hate you; ye know that it hated Me before it hated you”? How can that disciple have a comforting assurance of the sacrifice of Christ in his own stead and in his own behalf, who by his lax and inconsistent conversation would falsify the account of Holy Writ, that “the grace of God which bringeth salvation teaches us that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present world”? Whenever you find that you have no clear evidence of an interest in Jesus--that there is a sensible interruption of the hope and assurance which have been wont to flow ill and gladden the soul-then let a recurrence to the sentiment of our text bring to your notice the reason, which in all likelihood best accounts for the change. Christ cannot be seen without holiness. Therefore search ye and determine whether the luminary be not riding as high and as bright as before in the firmament, and whether the sole cause why the murkiness is around you, and deep gloom seems wrought into the overhead canopy, be not in the passions which have been gratified, the concessions made, and the resolutions relaxed, so that from the witherings of a once flourishing holiness have gone up vapour and mist, which have darkened the sun, and intercepted the rich light which fell around your path. It is not that Christ withdraws His lustre; it is only that men, through carelessness, or lukewarmness, or conformity to the world, destroy the keenness of the spiritual vision. We reject, therefore, as presumptuous and insulting to God, all pretensions to privileges and rights which are independent on holiness, in thought, word, and deed; we refuse to take our test from what men style their experience; but we go alone, without hesitancy, to their practice. (H. Melvill, B. D.)

The connection between holiness and felicity

I. THE NATURE OF HOLINESS. The most intelligible description of holiness as it is inherent in us, may be this, “It is a conformity in heart and practice to the revealed will of God.” Now His revealed will comprises both the law and the gospel: the law informs us of the duty which we as creatures owe to God; and the gospel of the duty which, as sinners, we owe to God as reconcilable through a Mediator. Our obedience to the former implies the whole of morality, and to the latter the whole of evangelical graces, as faith in a Mediator, repentance, &c. From this definition of holiness it appears that it is absolutely necessary to see the Lord; for unless our dispositions are conformed to Him, we cannot be happy in the enjoyment of Him. I shall expatiate upon the dispositions and practices in which holiness consists, or which naturally result from it; and they are such as follow:

1. A delight in God for His holiness. Self-love may prompt us to love Him for His goodness to us; and so many unregenerate men may have a selfish love to God on this account. But to love God because He is infinitely holy, is a disposition natural to a renewed soul only, and argues a conformity to His image.

2. Holiness consists in a hearty complacence in the law of God, because of its purity. The law is the transcript of the moral perfections of God; and if we love the original we shall love the copy.

3. Holiness consists in a hearty complacence in the gospel method of salvation, because it tends to illustrate the moral perfections of the Deity, and to discover the beauties of holiness. The gospel informs us of two grand pre-requisites to the salvation of the fallen sons of men, namely, the satisfaction of Divine justice by the obedience and passion of Christ, that God might be reconciled to them consistently with His perfections; and the sanctification of sinners by the efficacy of the Holy Ghost that they might be capable of enjoying God, and that He might maintain intimate communion with them without any stain to His holiness.

4. Holiness consists in an habitual delight in all the duties of holiness towards God and man, and an earnest desire for communion with God in them. This is the natural result of all the foregoing particulars. If we love God for His holiness, we shall delight in that service in which our conformity to Him consists; if we love His law, we shall delight in that obedience which it enjoins; and if we take complacence in the evangelical method of salvation, we shall take delight in that holiness without which we cannot enjoy it.

5. To constitute us saints indeed, there must be universal holiness in practice. This naturally follows from the last, for as the body obeys the stronger volitions of the will, so when the heart is prevailingly disposed to the service of God, the man will habitually practise it.

II. THE ENDEAVOURS WE SHOULD USE TO OBTAIN THIS HOLINESS.

1. Endeavour to know whether you are holy or not by close examination.

2. Awake, arise, and betake yourselves in earnest to all the means of grace.

III. THE ABSOLUTE NECESSITY OF HOLINESS TO THE ENJOYMENT OF HEAVENLY HAPPINESS.

1. The unchangeable appointment of God excludes all the unholy from the kingdom of heaven; (see 1 Corinthians 9:6; Revelation 21:27; Psalms 5:4-5; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15).

2. The very nature of things excludes sinners from heaven; that is, it is impossible in the nature of things, that, while they are unholy, they could receive happiness from the employments and entertainments of the heavenly world. (Pres. Davies.)

Follow holiness:

This being the larger idea, explains and covers the lesser one of “peace with all.” As when the tide recedes, the waters fret and raise angry surfs upon the sunken rocks, but when it has advanced in full flow these rocks are submerged, and there is deep stillness over them, so in the full tide of consecration unto God all causes of disquietude are swallowed up and covered. (A. B. Davidson, LL. D.)

Heaven--none admitted but those like Jesus

At heaven’s gate there stands an angel with charge to admit none but those who in their countenances bear the same features as the Lord of the place. Here comes a monarch with a crown upon his head. The angel pays him no respect, but reminds him that the diadems of earth have no value in heaven. A company of eminent men advance dressed in robes of state, and others adorned with the gowns of learning, but to these no deference is rendered, for their faces are very unlike the Crucified. A maiden comes forward, fair and comely, but the celestial watcher sees not in that sparkling eye and ruddy cheek the beauty for which he is looking. A man of renown cometh up heralded by fame, and preceded by the admiring clamour of mankind; but the angel saith, “Such applause may please the sons of men, but thou hast no right to enter here.” But free admittance is always given to those who in holiness are made like their Lord. Poor they may have been; illiterate they may have been; but the angel as he looks at them smiles a welcome as he says, “It is Christ again; a transcript of the holy child Jesus. Come in, come in; eternal glory thou shalt win. Thou shalt sit in heaven with Christ, for thou art like Him.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)

No sin in heaven:

“There shall in no wise enter into it anything that defileth.” Heaven is not like Noah’s ark, that received clean and unclean. A sinner is compared to swine (2 Peter 2:22), and shall a swinish creature tread upon the golden pavement of heaven? Indeed the frogs came into king Pharaoh’s court, but in heaven there is no entertainment for such vermin. (T. Watson.)

Admittance to heaven

Governor Corwin says that some church members will have to make a great many explanations, before St. Peter, the reported keeper of the gate of heaven, will let them in. The character of others is so unequivocal that none will be required: the gate will fly wide open before them.

Holiness a generic disposition:

When we speak of holiness in man, we speak of that positive character which reveals itself by the exercises or manifestations of a high moral character, which repeatedly shows itself in some men as the occasion may call forth. It is not a separate and distinct grace like humility, truth, temperance, or meekness, neither is it a union of all the graces in such a way as light is the union of the primary rays of the sun. It is not an amalgamation of all the graces, but they are the means by which it shows itself in different directions and situations. There is a decided distinction between it and justice and meekness. The possession of one or other of these virtues does not imply holiness, but where holiness is, each of these graces will duly appear, h man may be temperate or just without being holy; but if he be holy all the graces will display themselves in him as a matter of course. Each of the graces will appear in him in their own proper occasions. Holiness is not one good quality, but the hand that moves beneath and around all of them. It is not one good action, but the principle that inspires all good actions; I might almost say it is like some essence we can hardly get at. It is not itself so much as the goodness of everything good in us; it is the virtue of virtues; or, in the words of an American theologian, it is not a head or part, but a complete whole, and by that we are to understand not a collection of properties, but a generic disposition which regulates all the movement of a Christian’s existence. Holiness, therefore, is the moral nature or character of God; and in man it is his moral nature, so that he who possesses it is a partaker of God’s nature. Thus we come back to the definition from which we set out. Holiness is God’s likeness, and when a man is disposed to think as God thinks, act as God acts, and seeks to live in unison with God and His character, then we have real and true holiness. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

Sight of God:

“I cannot love God,” said a thoughtless man, “for I have never seen Him.” “Canst thou not?” responded his companion; “ then thou canst do less than the little blind child who sits under the shade of the chestnut tree on the village green. She can love her father and mother, though she has never seen them, and will never see them to the latest hour of her life.” There is truth here. It requires a special faculty to see God. And it is a terrible fact that this sense, the power of God-consciousness, is often all but entirely destroyed by sin.


Verses 15-17

Hebrews 12:15-17

Lest any man fail of the grace of God

Are you a failure?

The wish to succeed is natural. It is seen in a little child, who will sometimes shed tears if he happen to lose the race which he runs with other children. The desire not only to do well, but to excel is the prevailing aspiration with all sane men and women. But the best men always feel as if they came short of the excellence they desire. One of the most eminent and beloved bishops of the Church of England had a book which he intended no one to see but himself, but he omitted to destroy it before he died; and in this book he had written under his name this sentence, “A man who has failed to accomplish his ideal.” Yet he was, indeed, a good man. When John Knox was on his death-bed, his friends said of him in his presence, “How pleasing for him now to remember the great deeds he has done for the gospel of Christ!” He replied, “I bid yon hush. Do not by such remarks add to the reproaches of my conscience, which upbraids me for the many things I have left undone, and the numberless things I ought not to have done; God be merciful to me a sinner!” When wise and good men do succeed, they feel that the result is scarcely due to their efforts, but to the working of the Spirit of God within them. A true artist forgets himself, thinking only of his work, and when he receives praise feels that he is merely the hand used by the spirit of art. In his finest strains the poet feels that it is not his own mind but the Divine muse, which possesses and inspires him to write glowing words. The sculptor, when be has chiselled the most beautiful specimen of his plastic art, feels how greatly distant he is from achieving his ideal of perfection. I have spoken thus to encourage those of you who I believe are truly great, and who feel that the work you do is imperfectly done. All divinely directed men of true genius feel as you do. Be cheered! Persevere in your work, and let not the consciousness of failure distress you too much; for that feeling is the evidence of genius--it is a blessed genius that can detect a flaw or an inferiority in your own work and stimulate you to continued effort. Let me now address those who are satisfied with their efforts, or who fail in them through some wilful fault of their own. “Looking diligently lest any man fail, or come short, of the grace of God.”

1. It may be that some of us fail through our want of continued effort. In nay garden there is a cherry tree. It bore no fruit the first year, but we took great pains with it, and the second year it brought forth one splendid cherry, and that was all. It made its effort and succeeded. Likewise, every tree, every flower, and even the common grass by the wayside makes strenuous efforts to put forth beauty and fruit after its kind. But unfortunately some of us men are not like trees and flowers; we do not make continued efforts.

2. Another reason your life is a failure is because you do not depend upon God, and you live more for yourself than for your fellow-men. What do I mean by “depending upon God”? Well, this. See that ship. The captain has put up the sails, and has done all he can. The ship is trimmed, the sails are set, and the captain waits upon the wind; he feels he is dependent Upon it. In the same way we should be dependent upon God. We should wait for Him. We should do what we can to make ourselves ready for His coming, and then wait for Him to do the rest, and be willing to be guided by Him. There is too much self with many of us, that is why, comparatively speaking, our lives are failures.

3. The reason why others of us fail is because we take not advantage of God’s grace.

4. Another reason for your failure may be that you delay doing your present duty. You do not do the thing that lies nearest you, but wait to do something great in the future. This habit of procrastination not only robs you of present good but of future blessing. In the same way, you are waiting for some great work to do instead of doing the thing at your right hand. Doing little things well is the best preparation for the achievement of great things. (W. Birch.)

Falling short of the grace of God:

To prevent this danger they must look diligently. To this end

1. Every man must have a care of himself, and look to his own soul.

2. They must watch one over another, and if they see any inclining to apostasy, or beginning to doubt of, or decline his profession, they must, by good example, instruction, admonition, reproof, and exhortation, seek to reform him.

3. The minister of the gospel being trusted with man’s soul, must be very watchful above all other; must exhort, reprove, and by his wholesome doctrine, inform the ignorant, strengthen the weak, reform the erroneous, encourage the faint, and suffer no such bitter root to spring up amongst his people.

4. They that have the power of discipline, upon information, must by admonition and lighter censures first seek to reclaim a sinning brother; and if so, they cannot rectify him, they must cast him out, lest others be infected. (G. Lawson.)

Anxiety for souls:

Fleming mentions one John Welsh, often, in the coldest winter nights, found weeping on the ground, and wrestling with the Lord, on account of his people, and saying to his wife when she pressed him for an explanation of his distress,” I have the souls of three thousand to answer for, while I know not how it is with many of them.”

Piloting stalls

As the pilot-boats cruise far out, watching for every whitening sail, and hover, through day and night, all about the harbour, vigilant to board every ship, that they may bring safely through the narrows all the wanderers of the ocean; so should we watch off the gate of salvation for all the souls, tempest-tossed, beating in from the sea of sin, and guide them through the perilous straits, that at last in still waters they may east the anchor of their hope. (H. W. Beecher.)

Grace should permeate the entire man:

In the camphor-tree every part is impregnated with the precious perfume; from the highest twig to the lowest root the powerful gum will exude. Thus grace should permeate our whole nature, and be seen in every faculty, every word, every act, and even every desire. If it be “in us and abound,” it will be so. An unsanctified part of our frame must surely be like a dead branch, deforming and injuring the tree.

Root of bitterness springing up

Roots of bitterness:

Sin, whether in men or among them--whether viewed as inherent in the individual, or spread through the community--sin may well be compared to a root. This analogy does much to point out the nature, and the origin, and the consequences, and the cure of that one evil which offends God and afflicts men.

I. The analogy of a root serves to illustrate the NATURE of the evil. An accurate knowledge of the danger goes far to constitute a defence. The figure directs our thoughts at once to the heart as the seat of the affections. “Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts,” and words, and actions. Our care must not be exclusively directed to the deeds--the fruit above ground--we must seek to reach that hidden root which grows in the soul unseen, generating actual transgression in the life of men. There are many points in which the analogy holds good between a root and the sinful disposition of soul which gives birth to unrighteous action.

1. The root is below ground--unseen. The surface of the field, when you pass by, may be naked, and clean, and smooth--not a green blade to be seen, far less an opening flower, or ripening fruit; yet there may be in that field a multitude of thriving, vigorous roots, that will soon cover and possess its surface with thorns and thistles. So in a church, or a family, or a single member of it, though for the time all that meets the eye be fair, there may be in the soul within a germ of evil already swelling, and ready to burst out into open wickedness.

2. The root not only is, but grows. It has a vital self-increasing principle. Unless you kill it, you cannot keep it down. So with the sinful disposition in the heart. It is not the existence of the thing merely that we have to dread, but its vitality. The Scripture (Ephesians 2:2-3) speaks of men being dead in sins, and yet walking according to the course of this world. In like manner, though the guilty state of the soul be called death, yet it is a death that lives and grows. It not only bears fruit upward, but strikes root downward; and the more vigorously it shoots its fibres down into the soil, the heavier a harvest of wickedness it bears.

3. Though you may be able to destroy the fruit, and cut down the branches, the root may be beyond your reach. Though the branches be lopped off, and the stem cut down close by the ground, yet the root left in the soil will keep its hold, and send up another stem, and spread out other branches. So with this sin. Much may be done to check its outward exhibition. Many agencies may be brought to bear upon it, which will not only prevent the ripening of the fruit, but will blight the opening blossom, and maim the spreading branches. Many schemes may be tried, and tried successfully, to stop the committing of sins, while the disposition to sin lives as vigorous, and grows as rank as ever in the soul.

II. In the text the root is significantly called A hoot OF BITTERNESS. The analogy of a root suggests the existence, and the life, and the growth, and the power of a principle, without determining whether it be good or bad; but the distinguishing characteristic of the root spoken of is “bitterness.” Everything depends on the nature of the root that is bedded in the soil. There is a plant called the nightshade, which is in some respects like a vine. Like the vine, its branches are slender, and unless supported, they trail upon the ground. Its bunches of fruit, too, are very similar, both in form and colour, to clusters of grapes. Its fruit is a poison. From its nature, it gets the name of the deadly nightshade. Now, this plant may grow beside a vine--may cling to the branches of a vine, and intermingle its clusters of fruit, so that you could scarcely distinguish the one from the other. Nay, more; in such a case the roots of the two plants will shoot down into the same soil--they will intertwine with each other in the earth--they will drink up the same sap at the same place. It would require a very close examination to distinguish the fibres that belong to each; yet this root converts the sap into delicious food--that into deadly poison. The result does not depend on air and sun, and moisture and earth--these were all the same in this case. The fruit takes its character from the root. If it be a root of bitterness, it turns everything into poison. Such is the distinguishing characteristic of a sinful affection. Our living souls are the seat of many thoughts and emotions they constitute the soil which nourishes many roots. Some roots grow there bearing sweet fruit to the glory of God and the good of men; but they are “the planting of the Lord.” It is the root of bitterness that springs first, and spreads farthest. There are the shattered remnants of much good in the human soul. There are in it many materials which may be turned to good account, when a new heart has been given--a new spirit created. But in all at first, and in many still, a strong one has possession. A bitter root occupies and sucks the soil, wasting its strength in bringing forth death. Pride, envy, worldliness, ungodliness--these, and other roots, pervade the ground, and drain off all its fatness. The natural powers and emotions of the soul--the sap which these roots feed upon--would nourish trees of righteousness, if they were but planted there. There are many precious qualities of mind, efficient for good or for evil, just as they are employed. You have known a man possessed of many good qualities--such qualities as attract and bind to their possessor a wide circle of friends. He is, in the common sense of the term, a good-hearted man. He is generous, and kind, and honest. He will not maliciously resent an injury--he gives liberally of his goods to feed the poor--he renders to every man his due; but he is a drunkard. A bitter root has fastened in that generous soil, and drinks up all its riches. Oh! it is sad to see that strong one keeping possession of a wealthy place. It is sad to see so promising a field exhausted in bearing the filthiest fruit. Avarice is another root of equal bitterness. There is no more pitiable creature on earth than a man whose heart’s warm affections have been sucked out by the lust of gold. The power of understanding and judging, of liking and disliking, of hoping and fearing--all these, as natural capabilities of the human soul, are wielded by the presiding will either on the side of righteousness or the side of sin. The same learning and ardour which Saul of Tarsus employed to waste the Church, Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, plied as the instruments of extending and establishing it. Paul had met the Lord in the way, and received into his heart the seed of a new life. This is the one needful thing. These understandings and memories, and all these natural powers that are now wasted on sin, the same instruments will do for serving God, when the quickening Spirit has implanted the new life within Deuteronomy 29:14-18). The root that beareth gall and wormwood is a heart that turneth away from God; and to that spring of evil must the cure be applied. Although it be “ a root out of a dry ground,” all will be well, if it be not a “root of bitterness.” If the root be holy, so also will the branches be. (W. Arnot.)

How bitterness grows

A young girl had but few social opportunities. She fell into habits of excessive self-inspection, and a morbid sensitiveness to criticism. With good gifts, and refined tastes, and careful culture, she began to grow conscious of a kind of superiority to most of those about her. But the absence of lively sympathies fostered reserve and taciturnity, so that few found out or appreciated her real attainments. While her own standard of character was rising, others ceased to care what so indifferent and haughty a spirit might know or be. Presently a sense of injustice began to spring up in her. Each new acquirement only seemed to separate her more and more from her neighbours. Even her equals failed to appreciate the hidden merit. Gradually, as years went on, a silent resentment was kindled. Temper was a little soured; speech grew sarcastic; judgment grew bitter. She revenged herself for neglect by withdrawing further and further from the world. Those of her own sex were alienated, and as to those of the other, they were a little frightened. Very few men value criticism enough to marry it. And so, every way, society loses in the person of this fine capable young woman an ornament and a strength. (T. D.Huntingdon.)


Verse 16-17

Hebrews 12:16-17

Essau, who for one morsel

The character of Esau:

There are certain features of character which, if they do not exactly enlist our admiration, never fail to secure our goodwill, and an instinctive sympathy with those who possess them.
The man who along with his virtues, which by reason of their very nature lift him above many of his fellows, combines a few of those failings which bring him down again to their level, is by far the greatest favourite. Good men are glad to acknowledge his goodness, and for the sake of it are disposed to deal gently with his inconsistencies. The multitude find that they, too, have a share in him, and are pleased to recognise their own features in such respectable and perhaps unusual company. Now it is just such a character as this of which it is most difficult to form an impartial estimate.’ And it is all the more difficult if the good qualities in question are of that striking sort which almost disarm criticism. For there are qualities that act in such a way. It seems, for instance, almost impossible to resist the impression which energy makes upon our minds, especially the energy that throws itself out upon the broad arena of practical life, and produces visible and manifest results. The same thing holds true, though in a less degree, of all that class of actions which we distinguish by the word “ impulsive.” We pardon a man a great deal for the sake of this particular temperament. If he does what is wrong, it mitigates the wrong that it was done on the spur of the moment, and not by a cool, deliberating wickedness. If he does what is good, it makes the good still better, because goodness that acts spontaneously is more genuine than a habitual calculating virtue. Besides, we give more latitude to impulsive actions, because they break through the routine of things. Hence the popularity of what is vulgarly called dash, a quality we all naturally admire. It serves as a sort of flourish that relieves the monotony of life. And we watch any singular display of it as a man watches a game of chance, knowing there may be some brilliant successes, but just as likely some ruinous catastrophe. The character of Esau, as it is brought before us in Scripture, partakes largely of this element. He was if anything an impulsive man. He had none of those faults which attach themselves to timid and more thoughtful characters, the tendency to equivocate, and compass an end by somewhat doubtful means to bargain, and
finesse, and sail close to the wind. A character like this shows, of course, all the more favourably when compared with such as one as that of Jacob. His faults spring, no doubt, from his peculiar temperament, but they are those which we regard with the greatest dislike. His virtues, on the other hand, had none of that spontaneity and freshness which makes an excellence doubly excellent, but were always unpleasantly prudential. They seem to have been developed only by infinite patience and a vast variety of discipline, and not to have come to very much after all. Yet Jacob was the man on whom God’s blessing rested, whose nature was the most susceptible of Divine treatment, and most capable of receiving and transmitting the promise of the covenant. Esau, according to the Scripture, was a profane man, with little or no capacity for the spiritual and unseen, unable to understand it, whose strong earthly instincts and exuberance of life repelled everything of the sort, or hardly admitted of its approach. On what, then, is our sympathy with Esau grounded? He stands out as the representative of the warmhearted, high-spirited man of the world, whose sins, because they scorn the grosset attributes of meanness, seem little more to us than acts of extravagance. The growths of a rich though wayward nature, they carry along with them a certain savour of its richness, that renders them somewhat less unpalatable. And the fact that now and then he can do most liberal things, be touched with poignancy of sorrow, or rise into an ardour of affection, seems to prove that he cannot be a bad man. It shows he has it in him to throw his sin aside, and rise above it, that there must be an inward fountain of goodness, that but for untoward and embarrassing conditions, would be certain to obtain the ascendency. So we are inclined to argue. But the argument may he a mistake. For what determines the nature of a man’s life, and stamps his character as good or bad, is the course of it in the main. A few glimpses of sunshine, however bright, will not make a fine day, especially if it pours heavily throughout the intervals. The stream that lingers in its deep pools, and doubles on itself in doubtful windings through the plain, is none the less surely seeking for the sea. So we are not to imagine a man good or bad because the level of his life is broken up by occasional deeds of goodness or the reverse. We are to look at the tenor of the whole and discover, if we can, the sovereign motive that governs its drift. Now it is unfortunately true that much generosity and warmth of emotion may co-exist with serious moral weakness, that a man’s nature may break out at times into admirable actions, while its habitual temper is rigidly selfish, nay, that these actions themselves may only be selfishness working in a somewhat unusual way. For what is impulsiveness but the tendency to act at the bidding of one’s own feelings? And to indulge our feelings, irrespective of those of other people, what is that but selfishness? A man who habitually lives for himself will, almost unconsciously, act upon the same principle of selfishness even in those very instances in which he seems to have most thoroughly broken away from it. His good deeds are, in all likelihood, so many acts of expiation by which he tries to make up for cases of neglect. Besides, even apart from such considerations, there is a subtle pleasure in being occasionally better than ourselves, in surprising people, and rising above their expectations, which is only another form of selfishness. It is as much as saying, “See how much more generous I am than you supposed. What an injustice you have done me in concluding I am hard-hearted and inconsiderate!” We must not be deceived, then, by the superficial attractiveness of the warm-hearted, impulsive type of character, nor forget that exceptional actions only prove their opposite to be the rule. Selfishness may disguise itself in a coat of many colours, and take its own way among a multitude of devices that seem to surround it with a contrary atmosphere, but which are all intended only to make room for it, and allow it to go on without interference. It is only when a man’s life involves him in self-denial; when it recognises the claims of others and the claims of God, and submits to adjust itself faithfully to these; when it gives up its own waywardness, and curtails its freedom, to add to the happiness and well-being of those around him; only, in short, when he bows himself to the yoke of Christ, and begins to burden himself, as He did, with the sins and sorrows, the toils and struggles, of the world--that he learns the first lesson in the school of Christianity, and truly practises the fear of God. But it is not as a selfish but as a profane man Esau is held up as a beacon of warning; and by a profane man is meant one who has no perception of the sanctity of Divine things. But this profaneness simply describes the selfish man’s character on that side of it which is turned towards God. He has no such respect for God as moves him to obedience. He removes religion out of his way as a serious hindrance, or shuts it up within so narrow a compass it never comes into collision with himself. What else can he do, if it only thwarts and annoys him? If it gives him no pleasure, and adds nothing to his resources, is it to be expected that it should be found anywhere except amid the lumber of his life? But there is another reason besides those I have mentioned which has much to do with our sympathy with Esau, and that is his misfortunes. We are apt to look at him as the victim of a fraud, and it seems to us almost a contravention of justice that the impostor should flourish in the favour of God and his victim be disowned and cast aside. But this is a one-sided view of the occurrence and falls short of the truth. No man can be cheated out of a Divine gift against his own will. God does not hold His benefits with so lax a hand, or dispense them with such indifference, as to allow them to be diverted from their destined possessor by the craft or subtilty of man or devil. Esau lost the birthright by his sin, sold it for a mess of pottage, and had himself and not his brother to blame for his calamity. But it was highly characteristic of Esau that he should not have seen this. It is the way of selfish, worldly men to resent exceedingly that their sin should find them out. And having his father on his side, who had the blessing to bestow, it seemed to him a settled thing that he should receive it. The old affair of the pottage was not so serious after all, and it would be absurd to suppose that so trifling a transaction would interfere with the stated rights of the eldest born. But though hand join in hand iniquity shall not go unpunished, and the conspiracy of sin was broken, and its purpose baffled, by an utterly unprecedented trick. It is a terrible illustration of the truth that as a man sows so shall he also reap; that every sin we commit, instead of passing into the past with the time that witnessed it, remains embedded among the forces of our life, that there it works and spreads, and dissipates its influence, till it brings us face to face with the measure of retribution. But even though it be granted that Esau suffered for his own fault, was not the suffering disproportioned to the sin? Was it not too trifling to be followed by so grievous a penalty? It might have been so if his sin had only consisted in the act that was the immediate occasion of his loss. But no sin stands by itself. And it is not the evil action that makes a man bad, it merely reveals the fact that he is bad. It is the outlet by which the inward wickedness issues’ into broad daylight, and publishes the fact of its existence. Esau was a profane man, not because he sold his birthright; but he sold his birthright because he was profane. And there was nothing for it but to transfer it to some one who should watch over it with becoming pains, and yield himself to be fashioned by the hope of its fulfilment. It happened according to that saying of our Lord, “Unto him that hath shall be given, and he shall have more abundantly, but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he seemeth to have.” And so, let us beware of cherishing a spirit of self-indulgence and of indolent yielding to our desires. Your nature may grow so enfeebled by selfishness you will not be able to rouse yourself to the call of God. Some critical moment may arrive, some day of grace, when there shall be set before you with a freer and more abundant entrance than ever the open door of the kingdom of God, and you will be too easy-going to be disturbed, too enervated by indulgence to seize your opportunity. Or, to keep more closely to the tragic example of my text, some long gratified desire may insist on being satisfied at the expense of fidelity to Christ. You may find that in some hour when you have least expected it you are faced with the alternative of denying yourself, or parting for ever with an interest in Him; and if you have not been bearing the Cross and enduring hardness as a good soldier, if you have not been accustoming yourself to sacrifice your own will to the will of God, how terrible the risk that in that hour of everlasting issues you may fail to stand the test, and barter your birthright for a worldly lust! (C. Moinet, M. A.)

The relation of animal appetites to spiritual prerogatives

There are three classes of sentient life: first, those which have animal appetites, and no spiritual prerogatives--such are the beasts of the field, dec.; secondly, those which have spiritual prerogatives, and no animal appetites-such, probably, are angels; and thirdly, those that are compounded of both--such are men. In men, these two kinds of power occupy two very different relations; in some--the mass--the animal is the sovereign; in others--the few--the spiritual guides and governs all.

I. ANIMAL APPETITES OFTEN COME INTO COLLISION WITH SPIRITUAL PREROGATIVES.

1. Spiritual independency.

2. Moral approbation.

3. Divine fellowship.

II. ANIMAL APPETITES OFTEN LEAD TO THE SACRIFICE OF SPIRITUAL PREROGATIVES.

1. This is foolish.

2. This is criminal.

III. ANIMAL APPETITES, WHEN THEY LEAD TO THE SACRIFICE OF SPIRITUAL PREROGATIVES, REDUCE MAN TO THE UTMOST DISTRESS. (Homilist.)

Esau

I. HIS PROFANENESS IN ITS COMMENCEMENT. Oh, it is a strange parable, that sale of the birthright; a parable fulfilled again and again in the irreligious man selling eternity for time; the man of faith giving all that he now has for a better hope in years to come. It is a parable having its own peculiar lesson for our own days. Now, when natural accomplishments are so highly valued, when intellect, science, energy, skill, win the admiration even of foes; and implicit belief is construed as superstition, a self-denying, meditative life viewed almost as treason to the interests of human fellowship. Now, when even religion is denuded, as much as possible, of everything supernatural; and whilst honour, and benevolence, and generosity are lauded, and a general providence recognised, prayer, meditation, sacramental grace, like the promise of old, are put aside; we call you back to Isaac’s tent, and show you the types of our modern life in his twin sons, and bid you note how the man of religious faith, in spite of many faults, won the eternal love, whilst the man of this world, the free, frank hunter of the desert, brave yet Without reverence, affectionate yet without faith, became an alien from the commonwealth of Israel; stamped, for a perpetual warning, as the profane person who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright.

II. HIS PROFANENESS IN ITS FINAL ISSUE. HOW do men live on year after year foregoing religious privileges, forgetting God, and scarcely remember it! The man who has been baptized, and whose conscience tells him that he dare not die as he is--what is he but one who has verily parted with his spiritual birthright? Once he was sure of heaven, now he is sure no longer; nay, if he reflects has little hope of heaven in his present state; where is his birthright? He means to alter before he dies. He intends to win back his inheritance. What is this but Esau, dimly conscious of a loss, yet continuing in the same career which ruined him at the outset, a cunning hunter, and nothing but a cunning hunter still? We must wait till the next world for the “exceeding bitter cry “ from such men, for it is seldom here that the conviction of being lost for ever is experienced. The same carelessness lasts on to the end. There is, indeed, nothing more alarming than the fearlessness with which the majority meet death. Whenever there is manifested anxiety and dread, the minister of Christ knows what to do. But the difficult case to deal with is that which is the most common case; when the man who has never accustomed himself to make much of God and Christ in his health, appears in his sickness utterly without fear, unable to realise the bitter things that are written against him; unable to imagine that he has gone so far astray, and has so far to return. It is as if the habit of treating religion lightly, once contracted, dislocated the whole moral being, that we can never afterwards see, or hear, or taste aright, the powers of the world to come. And so the thoughtful man, who feels what sin is, what God is, what heaven is, must often fear for those who fear not for themselves; and tremble lest the instant of the death pang should be the signal of a terrible awakening--lest, at the moment when this world hears the faint whisper of the dying no longer, the eternal world may be ringing with the loud, bitter cry of a soul just conscious of a birthright lost for ever. (Bp. Woodford.)

Esau’s profanity:

It was the contemptuous treatment of that which should have been held sacred and invaluable. It was the selling of station, honour, influence, power, pre-eminence, for a dish of soup and a little brewed. It was the parting with chieftainship at the bidding of an empty stomach. It was the allowing of the animal to swallow up the man. It was sinking the interest of a great future in the little pressing need of the present.

I. THE ELEMENTS OF YOUR DANGER HERE.

1. The first element of danger which I mention is present stress--urgency of present need. The man who has just risen from a hearty meal and gone out into the street, is under no temptation to steal from the baker’s wagon which stands by the sidewalk. But the case is vastly different when the street-boy, who slept last night in an ash-barrel, and whose lips for twenty-four hours have not tasted food, comes along by the bread-cart. Involuntarily his tired feet halt. His eyes, how wide they open upon those loaves! His mouth, how it waters! Now he looks to the right and the left; up the street, down the street; no one in sight, and his hands spring like a steel-trap upon the nearest loaf. Why? Because he is hungry. So oftentimes do children of a larger growth come unto their critical hour. By misfortune, by loss, by squandering, or by the increasing power of an evil appetite (growing by that it feeds upon), the man’s desire for money has been made fierce, clamorous, raving. And now he is brought into the presence of his coveted boon. Money is before him, within his reach. It is not his own, but it is within sight. Oh, how he wants it! And so the man stands in the presence of his temptation, weak through the power of the craving within him. The next step is soon taken. The exposed man risks the penalty of the law; ventures honour, character, reputation; sells all these at the bidding of his hungry nature. And there is yet another and more vivid view of the working of this same mighty power. Man is born to a nobler birthright than honour or reputation even. In every sinful human being there vests the possible title to a blessed immortality. But the hour of present and pressing indigence bursts upon the man. He comes back from his long chase after satisfying good. He feels that he must have the desire of his heart--must have it now. And then the world offers it--offers it for a price. “Give me your birthright,” she says, “swear it me, and you shall have what you want. Throw away principle, and wealth is yours. Renounce integrity, and here is honour. Sell me conscience, and I give you success.” And the man reasons, Esau like, “Behold, I am at the point of death, and of what use is the birthright to a dead man? Heaven is far in the future, a dim, uncertain good. My title to it is not wealth or honour or success. Better have what I can get now.” “Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lintiles; and he did eat and drink, and rose up and went his way,”--without his birthright. So the world gives its victim. He eats, he drinks, he rises up and goes his way; goes his way to meditate upon the words, “What shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?”

2. The second element in the danger here is the almost omnipotent power of the present. Esau would not have felt his hunger so keenly if the broth had not been before him. Besides, he would have reasoned, “If I must wait until food is prepared by some one, I’ll prepare it myself and keep my birthright.” But the case was, that to Esau’s pressing need Jacob could bring immediate relief, could offer food already prepared. And so he got the birthright; bought it at a low figure, because he was able to pay the price at once. And men always sell at a lower price for cash in hand; and this, whether their merchandise is houses, or lands, or conscience, or character. Take the holders of real estate in our city who wish to sell. They have all of them one price for the buyer who pays all cash, and another and higher price for the buyer who wishes to pay in the future. This is so because the possession of money has value; because there is always more or less uncertainty about promises for the future, whether to pay or to do anything else. And I think I can see this same principle reaching out from this narrow sphere and ramifying all through the conduct of men. A child would rather have one toy to-day than the promise of a dozen to-morrow. And men are but older children. Look at the man who is wrecking his business, his health, and his family with strong drink, He would never pay this fearful price for a distant gratification. The men who are living in the enjoyment of dishonest wealth to-day--of wealth for which they have given their honour, their peace, and their souls--would not have paid this fearful price for riches which should come in a distant day. The uncertainty of the future, the dimness of the distant prize, their own valuation of moral character, would have prevented the foolish and profane transaction. So it is with all sin. It overcomes through the hope, the assurance, of immediate gratification. Heaven is in the future; so is death; so is judgment; and so is God. These all at uncertain distances, while right before them, ready to their hand, is the price of iniquity, the wages of sin. They sell so cheap because they sell for cash.

II. SOME THOUGHTS WHICH SHOULD SAVE A MAN HERE.

1. Today is not all. If the man who, in the midst of his ill-gotten wealth, is now lying upon the bed of death, had thought of this bed in the far off day of his temptation, the thought would have saved him. Out of it would have been born such wisdom as this: “The opportunity is most tempting. But I see a long future reaching out beyond it, and I cannot afford to blacken all this.” Oh, take into your hearts this preservative thought--to-day is not all. There is a future coming--a future with its days and its years and its ages. A future with its glory, honour, and immortality. A future with its endless heaven, and its blessed and blessing Father God. Mortgage not this future. Sell it not for a temporary gratification. Throw it not into the mouth of a single hungry hour.

2. There are things more important than the gratification of present desire. Principle is better than prosperity. Some sacrifices you cannot afford to make for any results. There are things which you ought not to sell at any price. They are these--usefulness in the world, peace of conscience, purity of heart, the favour of God; a good life, which shall not blanch or quiver in a single nerve, when Death shall lay his hand upon it.

3. The sale of the birthright is irrevocable. There are thousands of the world’s successful ones longing for peace and for happiness, who would give all they have in the world for the approval of conscience and the blessing of God. But it is too late. These things which they desire are the fruits of character; and, having bartered this, these sorrowful ones cannot have its fruits. Neither can tears buy these fruits. No one ever has sold, no one ever can sell, duty for a price, and keep happiness. (S. S. Mitchell, D. D.)

The profane exchange:

The history of the wicked, as well as of the righteous, is useful. By their crimes we are cautioned; and we are warned by their miseries. Anxious for our welfare, the Scripture addresses our fear as well as our hope, and holds forth instances of Divine vengeance, as well as proofs of Divine mercy.

I. Let us view Esau in his original state--and COMPARE YOUR PRIVILEGES WITH HIS PRIVILEGES. To stand supreme in the house of the patriarch Isaac was no trifling prerogative: his house was “the house of God, and the gate of heaven.” To the birthright belonged pre-eminence over the other branches of the family. Such were the prospects of Esau. And what are yours? It is true, you were not born in the house of Isaac; but you have been brought forth in a Christian country in a “land the Lord careth for,” where “the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth.” You have the Bible; you have Sabbaths; you have sanctuaries; you have ordinances; you have ministers; you have the throne of grace; you have the promise of the Holy Ghost: and all things appertaining to your everlasting happiness are now ready. You possess much; but all your present advantages are not to be compared with those glorious hopes to which you are called by the gospel. You have the prospect of becoming a “kind of firstfruits of His creatures”: a birthright which comprehends a “better country” than Canaan, even heaven. But this pearl is not for the swine, who, ignorant of its value, tramples it under foot; but for those who, conscious of its incomparable worth, prefer it to everything else, and, like the wise merchant, are willing to sell all to buy it. These high advantages may be sacrificed.

II. Let us therefore view Esau in the surrender of his privileges, and COMPARE YOUR SIN WITH HIS SIN. “For one morsel of meat he sold his birthright.” It is obvious that the loss was voluntary and base.

1. It was voluntary. No one forced it from him--he sold it. And who compels you to abandon your hopes of heaven? Who forces you into perdition? You say that you live in a world of enticing objects; that the dominion of sense is strong; that it is not very easy to resist the impulse of the moment. But is it impossible to resist? Have not many overcome, though placed in the same circumstances, and possessed of the same nature with you? What is goodness untried? Have you not reason as well as appetite? Is not grace attainable by you? Is it not sufficient for you?

2. It was equally base. For what is the price of the birthright? An empire? A crown? A crown sparkles in the eye of ambition: a throne is the highest pinnacle of human pride: nothing like it--but a despicable trifle, “one morsel of meat”--“a mess of pottage”--the dearest dish, says Bishop Hall, that was ever purchased, except the forbidden fruit. But I feel ready to dispute this. Are not you more than like him? Do not you surpass him in folly? For what do you sell the treasures of the soul and eternity, but a thing of nought, a fleeting indulgence, a false point of honour, an imaginary interest? Here is your eternal infamy and disgrace! “Ye have sold yourselves,” says the prophet, “for nought.”

III. LET US CONSIDER ESAU IN HIS MISERY, AND COMPARE YOUR DOOM WITH HIS DOOM. Nothing could be more affecting than his expostulations, and his bitter cries, but to no purpose does he urge his petition or press his father to retract: the benediction is pronounced, and Isaac acquiesces in the decision of heaven. Are you disposed to pity him? Yea, rather, weep for yourselves. Your loss is inestimably greater than his loss. After all his disappointments he had something left, and could entertain himself with the diversions of the field; but your condition will be destitute of all resources. Sin unavoidably brings a man sooner or later to lamentation and regret. Let us also remark, that there is a repentance which is unavailing. Paul tells us of a “sorrow of the world which worketh death.” The eyes which sin closes, eternity will open. But then grief comes too late. The blessing once lost, cannot be recovered. (W. Jay.)

Esau’s sensuality and profanity:

Esau was, undoubtedly, sensual, or addicted to gross carnal pleasures. His wild, roving character prepares us to find in him imperious passions and an unscrupulous will. The steady tradition of the Jews is that he was an abandoned profligate; and this is sufficiently borne out by what we read (Genesis 26:34-35). Again, Esau was profane; as, in truth, all sensual persons are. Show me a rake, and though an oath may never be heard to escape his lips, I will pronounce that man profane; for his sins belong to that class which, more than any other, eat out all fear of God from the human heart, and harden and petrify it into the most reckless godlessness. Esau’s profanity sufficiently appears in the brief account of it we have in Genesis 25:32-34, and in the flippant levity with which he sold his birthright, clinching the transaction with an oath which he never meant to keep--thus consistently blending blasphemy and fraud. And the chartered treasure he sold was no commonplace one. It was a birthright not only to Canaan, but to all the privileges and distinguished honours of the Messianic people. It was a birthright, therefore, in which the spiritual interests of Esau’s children, and children’s children, were most vitally implicated. Of this matchless and marvellous honour, Esau flippantly said, under a passing sensation of hunger, “Behold I am at the point to die (which, as we have already said, was not true), and what profit shall this birthright do to me?” Well might the inspired historian add, “Thus Esau despised his birthright.” A passing sense of hunger, which any common soldier would scorn or forget in the pursuit of honour; which the pettiest trader can forget in the eager pursuit of gain; which Esau himself would often despise in the keen urgency of the chase, was now, in his spiritual balance, to make the proudest birthright the world ever saw to kick the beam! What mattered it to profane Esau whether the blood of the chosen holy seed, or of a heathen predatory tribe, was at the time flowing in his veins? Thus the inspired writer has only too good reasons for affirming that Esau was both sensual and profane; and that it was these bad qualities that led him to barter away his birthright, yea, and to pour the utmost contempt upon it by weighing against it a paltry mess of lentile pottage. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)

Sensual and profane

Every gospel rejecter, as such, is both sensual and profane. He is sensual, for he is “a lover of pleasure more than a lover of God.” He is profane, for he trifles year after year, though death’s darts are flying around him, with the tremendous realities of duty and destiny. So sensual is he that “the pleasures of sin for a season” bulk larger in his eyes than “the pleasures” that are “for evermore.” So profane is he that “he worships and serves the creature more than the Creator,” whom he dethrones from his conscience and banishes from his heart. Do not cavil at the terms; for if you are still a gospel rejecter, the terms fit you; they mean you. One unbeliever may indignantly say, I am not sensual; another may say, I am not profane; no matter, your place lies somewhere between them; and to flee from one is just to fall into the other, cross and recross each other as you will. You do not need to be an abandoned profligate in order to be sensual: you do not need to be a blasphemer in order to be profane. If there is anything you prefer to God, to Christ, to a present salvation, you are both. And oh remember, that as any object, though only an inch square, if kept over the eye, is large enough to keep the whole world of vision, and all its enjoyments, out of the mind, so a very trifling indulgence, clung to in spite of conscience, is large enough to keep the boundless tide of salvation out of your soul. Lovers of pleasures, beware! Oh, remember that “the pleasures of sin “ will, ere long, be a phrase of greatly altered meaning. It has some meaning now; but ere long the tie, such as it is, that binds pleasure and sin will be in a large degree finally ruptured. There will be pleasure and there will be sin, but the great gulf will roll between. In the preponderating point of view, all the pleasure will be in heaven, but there will be no sin there; all the sin will be in woe, but there will be no pleasure there. (Ibid.)

The unhallowed bargain

I. ESAU’S SALE.

1. An instance of the foolish behaviour of men.

2. An instance of thoughtless words bringing serious realities. The wise man never speaks at random. The prudent is not overtaken to betray himself by the feelings of the moment.

3. An instance of the little value often set upon the most precious blessings.

4. An instance of the sensual prevailing over the ideal.

5. An instance of the irretrievable character of wrong choice.

II. JACOB’S PURCHASE.

1. What he lost.

2. What he gained. The birthright--but with certain penalties attached. It was got by fraud, and the curse of the fraud clung to it.

Learn:

1. The folly of rash and hasty impulses.

2. The folly of trifling with religious matters.

3. The folly of dishonesty. (Homilist.)

The price of birthrights:

There is only one price that can be had for a birthright, and that is “one morsel of bread.” There are no higher figures; there are no better bargains. If he had received ten thousand worlds they would have constituted but one morsel of meat, when in the other hand there was a birthright. The devil has no more in his counter; the enemy has no more at the bank; he pays you all he can pay you when you sell your birthright--one gulp, one morsel, one flash of pleasure, and then hell! Nothing more is possible. Then why haggle with the old serpent the devil? Why ask for threehalfpence more for your soul? The whole transaction totals up to one morsel of meat. That is all he gave to the mother of the world. She and he struck the first bargain about birthrights. So it comes and goes, age after age, the same temptation, the same bargain, the same price, the same perdition! See if these things be not true in experience, in every degree of the circle of life’s tragedy. You will have pleasure, you will gratify a passion: do it; having done it, what have you got in your hand, in your mouth? In the very indulgence of the passion you consume the compensation; when all is over there is nothing left but fire, shame, reproach, the sting of hell. This is inevitable; this is the law of Providence, the law of experience, the law of justice. The highest rights can be parted with. A man can get rid of his birthright. A man can deplete his soul of itself. One would think it would be impossible to part with anything but that which is material, commercial, arithmetical; but history--and may we not add personal consciousness?--testifies to the fact that we sell our souls. Why do we not say so to ourselves plainly and frankly? Why not confess the crime of suicide? This is the intolerable agony of remorse. If we had sold a hand we could make it up again in some form, but when we have sold the brain, the heart, the soul, how can we recover such birthrights? “In the day then eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” That word “ die” has never been explained. It must be terrible beyond the power of language to express, for God hath no pleasure in it; and if He of the infinite heart cannot make room for death, who shall describe it in words or figure it in sufficient symbols? There are possessions without which we could not be men, without which we Could not begin to live, and without which we could not receive the ministries of nature. Is a man deaf? then he cannot receive the ministry of music. Is a man blind? then he is excluded from the ministry of light and colour and form and all that peculiarity of distributed magnitude which constitute the very apocalypse and wizardry of form. And you cannot represent to blindness what a beam of light is like. So you may have got rid of your religious sensitiveness, and now you may say about the hymn-book out of which you used to sing that you can find nothing in it. The book is not dead, but your spiritual sensitiveness is extinct. So with the Divine revelation. You were once accustomed to delight in it, you meditated therein day and night, and now any last critic who is dealing in the expectorations of critics who are already ashamed of their folly can tempt you to leave the Church. Has the Church changed? Not at all. Is the Bible so revised as to have ejected its own wisdom and made room for sonic man’s folly? No. Then what is the explanation of it? The birthright is gone, the soul’s power of vision, the soul’s responsiveness to appealing heavens and all the nurturing ministries of nature. You can exhaust yourselves. You have sold your birthright. What things are there that may be called birthrights? There are some birthrights that are moral, others that are intellectual, and others that are social. Surely we come into something; surely there is some law of inheritance and some law and discipline of succession. We cannot get rid of instinct, much older than logic; we cannot get rid of aspirations that have no words, God’s own songs in the soul. Let us one and all take care lest we part with our birthright on any terms; and let us especially remember that whatever the terms may be in figures they total up into one morsel of meat in reality. It is a morsel, and it is one morsel, and it never can be more under any circumstances. What is the relation of Christ to these Esaus? Has Christianity anything to say to such poor merchantmen? Christianity first begins with a revelation of their folly; Christianity shows them that if a man should gain the whole world and lose his birthright, he has gained nothing, he has profited nothing, he is a loser by all the transaction. What is a man profited if he gain the whole world and lose his birthright? (J. Parker, D. D.)

Wisdom of temptation:

The devil doth not know the hearts of men; but he may feel their pulse, know their temper, and so, accordingly, can apply himself. As the husbandman knows what seed is proper to sow in such soil; so Satan, finding out the temper, knows what temptation is proper to sow in such a heart. That way the tide of a man’s constitution runs, that way the wind of temptation blows. Satan tempts the ambitious man with a crown, the sanguine man with beauty, the covetous man with a wedge of gold. He provides savoury meat, such as the sinner loves. (T. Watson.)

Dislike to sensuality

His (Antisthenes’) contempt of all sensual enjoyment was expressed in his saying, “I would rather be mad than sensual.” (O. H. Lewes.)

Ruined men

Ruined castles are picturesque, they add charm to a landscape--alas I we cannot say the same of ruined men.

Sin causing degradation

When the followers of Ulysses degraded themselves by the misuse of pleasures, until they fell to the level of the brutes, it is said that Circe, touching them with her wand, turned them into swine. She brought to the surface the inner ugliness; revealed the animal that ruled within. (H. O. Mackey.)

The soul bartered

Esau sold his inheritance for pottage. Lysimachus, besieged by the Goths, suffered so severely from thirst that he finally offered his kingdom to his foes for a supply of water. Having slaked his thirst, lie cried: “Oh, wretched man, who for a little joy has lost so great a kingdom!” (Preacher’s Cabinet.)

A bad bargain

Said a thoughtless young man to his sister under deep concern for her soul: “I’ll give you five dollars if you will quit this nonsense and be yourself again.” She took the paltry gift, lived without religion and died without hope. (Preacher’s Cabinet.)

No place of repentance

No reversal

I. THAT DESPISED AT ONE TIME IS SOUGHT AT ANOTHER.

II. THE VALUE OF SPIRITUAL BLESSING DISCOVERED WHEN UNATTAINABLE. The habit forms the character, Rejection becomes permanent, e.g., an icicle a foot long is formed drop by drop. So repeated indifference forms the permanent state in which it becomes impossible to seek a blessing.

1. Warning here to the indifferent, rash, profane; e.g., Saul offering sacrifice and losing a kingdom.

2. Warning to the hardened. An old man said, concerning religion, “There was a time, sir, when I might have turned, it is no use now. I am past even thinking about it.”

3. A warning to procrastinators. There are those who believe, but who will not act. Fable of the angel and hermit who constantly saw an old man adding from the wood to his bundle of sticks, and who could not lift and carry it.

4. See your birthright and take the Bible as your possession. Make it, as Hedley Vicars did, by placing a Bible on his table in his quarters, the sign of allegiance to Christ. If this were the first time some heard, there might be hope of some influence being brought to bear. Many times heard, and hardening following, the last opportunity will come when the chance of repentance will be gone. That time is not come if a penitent spirit is now possessed. Christ will grant forgiveness to every penitent soul. (H. De Lynne.)

Things we never get over

There is an impression in almost every man’s mind that somewhere in the future there will be a chance where he can correct all his mistakes. Live as we may, if we only repent in time, God will forgive us, and then all will be as well as though we had never committed sin. My discourse shall come in collision with that theory. I shall show you that there is such a thing as unsuccessful repentance; that there are things done wrong that always stay wrong, and for them you may seek some place of repentance, but never find it.

1. Belonging to this class of irrevocable mistakes is the folly of a misspent youth. We may look back to our college days and think how we neglected chemistry, or geology, or botany, or mathematics. We may be sorry about it all our days. Can we ever get the discipline or the advantage that we would have had had we attended to those duties in early life? A man wakes up at forty years of age and finds that his youth has been wasted, and he strives to get back his early advantages. Does he get them back? “Oh!” he says, “if I could only get those times back again, how I would improve them!” You will never get them back. When you had a boy’s arms, and a boy’s eyes, and a boy’s heart, you ought to have attended to those things. A man says at fifty years of age: “I do wish I could get over these habits of indolence.” When did you get them? At twenty or twenty-five years of age. You cannot shake them off. They will hang to you to the very day of your death. I said to a minister of the gospel last Sabbath night at the close of the service: “Where are you preaching now?” “Oh!” he says, “I am not preaching. I am suffering from the physical effects of early sin. I can’t preach now; I am sick.” A consecrated man he now is, and he mourns bitterly over early sins; but that does not arrest their bodily effects. The simple fact is, that men and women often take twenty years of their life to build up influences that require all the rest of their life to break down. When you tell me that a man is just beginning life, I tell you that he is just closing it. The next fifty years will not be of as much importance to him as the first twenty.

2. In this same category of irrevocable mistakes I put all parental neglect. We begin the education of our children too late. By the time they get to be ten or fifteen we wake up to our mistakes and try to eradicate this bad habit of the child; but it is too late. That parent who omits in the first ten years of the child’s life to make an eternal impression for Christ, never makes it. The child will probably go on with all the disadvantages which might have been avoided by parental faithfulness. When I was in Chamouni, Switzerland, I saw in the window of one of the shops a picture that impressed my mind very much. It was a picture of an accident that occurred on the side of one of the Swiss mountains. A company of travellers, with guides, went up some very steep places--places which but few travellers attempted to go up. They were, as all travellers are there, fastened together with cords at the waist, so that if one slipped the rope would hold him--the rope fastened to the others. Passing along the most dangerous point, one of the guides slipped, and they all slipped down the precipice; but after awhile one more muscular than the rest struck his heels into the ice and stopped; but the rope broke, and down, hundreds and thousands of feet, the rest went. And so I see whole families bound together by ties of affection, and in many cases walking on slippery places of worldliness and sin. The father knows it and the mother knows it, and they are bound all together. After awhile they begin to slide down, steeper and steeper, and the father becomes alarmed and he stops, planting his feet on the “Rock of Ages.” He stops, but the rope breaks, and those who were tied fast to him by moral and spiritual influences once, go over the precipice. Oh l there is such a thing as coming to Christ soon enough to save ourselves, but not soon enough to save others.

3. In this category of irrevocable mistakes I place also the unkindness done to the departed. When I was a boy, my mother used to say to me sometimes: “De Witt, you will be sorry for that when I am gone.” Oh, if we could only get back those unkind words; those unkind deeds. If we could only recall them; but you cannot get them back. You might bow down over the grave of that loved one, and cry, and cry. The white lips would make no answer.

4. There is another sin that I place in the class of irrevocable mistakes, and that is lost opportunities of getting good. Esau has sold his birthright, and there is not wealth enough in the treasure-houses of heaven to buy it back again. What does that mean? It means that if you are going to get any advantage out of this Sabbath-day, you will have to get it before the hand wheels around on the clock to twelve to-night. It means that though other chariots may break down or drag heavily, this one never drops the brake, and never ceases to run. It means that while at other feasts the cup may be passed to us, and we may reject it, and yet after awhile take it, the cup-bearers to this feast never give us but one chance at the chalice, and rejecting that, we shall “ find no place for repentance, though we seek it carefully with tears.”

5. There is one more class of sins that I put in this category of irrevocable offences, and that is lost opportunity of usefulness. There comes a time when you can do a good thing for Christ. It comes only once. Your business partner is a proud man. In ordinary circumstances say to him; “Believe in Christ,” and he will say; “You mind your business and I’ll mind mine.” But there has been affliction in the household. His heart is tender. He is looking around for sympathy and solace. Now is your time. Speak, or for ever hold your peace. There is a time in farm life when you plant the corn and when you sow the seed. Let that go by, and the farmer will wring his hands while other husbandmen are gathering in their sheaves. When an opportunity for personal repentance or of doing good passes away, you may hunt for it, you cannot find it. You may fish for it, it will not take the hook. You may dig for it, you cannot bring it up. I stand before those who have a glorious birthright. Esau’s was not so rich as yours. Sell it once and you sell it for ever. The world wants to buy it. Satan wants to buy it. Listen for a moment to these brilliant offers, and it is gone. (De Witt Talmage.)

No remedy:

In the action of every natural law there is a point up to which transgression is punished with a lenient hand that has in it provision for reparation upon repentance and reformation; but beyond that point you come to a line of facts where it makes no difference how sorry you feel, nor what you do, there is no remedy. There is a point beyond which violations of natural law involve suffering that is absolutely permanent. Our children understand this in respect to some things. A child, before it has attained any considerable age, knows that though he may fall down three or four stairs without serious injury, it cannot fall down a precipice three or four hundred feet and survive. If we go up a step higher we come to those silent, unwritten, unthought-of laws, that connect us one with another, in families, in societies, and in states, that are observed with benefit, and violated with regrets and penalties. A man may do many mean, wicked, and cruel things, and get over it. But there are some things which, if a man does once, and is found out, where social laws prevail, he will never recover from as long as he lives. Men may break down under trust and confidence in social connections, and never be able to build up again a state of things that will lead men to trust them. The same is true in economic laws, upon which business and property depend. Not a man lives that does not make mistakes in business. But some mistakes a man may make to-day, and correct to-morrow, and not seem to be a loser in consequence of them. If a man drives a heavily laden wain along the road, and a side-board cracks, he goes on, and the accident does not make much difference; but if an axletree breaks, it makes a great deal of difference. As when a ship is at sea without a forge with which to make a new crank--if the crank breaks, it is broken for the voyage; so in business there are some things that a man cannot do twice, for the reason that the first time kills him. The same is true of moral laws, or those that regulate influence, position, trust, among men. There are some violations of moral law that only limit and hinder men’s comfort and usefulness. There are some violations of moral law that put a man out of joint with society, but not so but that the disaster in time may be remedied. And there are some violations of moral law that destroy a man hopelessly, so that there can be no place found for repentance, though it be sought carefully with tears. In each of these departments we come to a line on one side of which repentance will work change and benefit, and on the other side of which it will have no influence whatsoever. Consider, then, some of the things which repentance can but very little change, or change not at all.

1. First, there are bitter injuries that we inflict upon others, which no man can follow after, nor in any wise change. And yet, we are responsible for them. With your tongue you may hew down a man’s reputation, and the things you have said will torment him to the very end of his days. You may afterwards see your error, you may go to the man and confess the wrong, and you may go to those to whom you have spoken ill of him, and say, “I have learned contrary things; I was false: and now I speak the truth to his credit”; but you cannot hunt slanderers. You might as well try to hunt all the flies that are abroad, or all the mosquitoes that covet your blood, in summer. The man that once lets loose these flying, stinging insects, may be as sorry as he pleases, but his repentance will not remedy the evil.

2. Parallel with these, although differing from them, are those things by which men wound the hearts of those whom they should shield. Your anger may sting venomously. Your cruel pride may do a whole age’s work in a day. You cannot take back the injuries that you have done to those whose hearts lie throbbing next to yours. Ah! when winter has frozen my heliotropes, it makes no difference that the next morning thaws them out. There lie the heliotropes--a black, noisome heap; and it is possible for you to chill a tender nature so that no thawing can restore it. You may relent, but frost has been there, and you cannot bring back freshness and fragrance to the blossom. It Is a terrible thing for a man to have the power of poisoning the hearts of others, and yet carry that power carelessly. He cannot find place for repentance, though he seeks it carefully with tears.

4. You may have injured, defrauded, and even betrayed men in their worldly estate, and in some cases it will be in your power to make reparation; but in many cases it will not be in your power to make reparation. And here is one of those things that you do not know anything about. It is as if a man should amuse himself by sitting in a window of his house, and shooting arrows into the street, without troubling himself to see whom they smote. He could not tell whom he hit, or what mischief he wrought. Now thousands of men are dealing in life in such ways that they shoot arrows of misfortune at their fellow-men. Men practise what is called fraud; but they do not watch the results of their fraudulent deeds, and they do not know anything about them. I do not doubt that many of every man’s troubles and misfortunes may be traced to his own conduct; but I am convinced that a large proportion of the misfortunes and troubles that afflict society may be traced to the heedless, dishonest, and wicked ways of worldly men. Now, when a man is brought to a condition in which he sees that he has done wrong, and says, “I have organised and carred on a business whose effects are pernicious, I am sorry I went into it, and I will quit it at once,” he may quit it, but he cannot wipe out its effects. They are irreparable. It is a fearful thing for a man to stand on debatable ground, where the question of right and wrong is held in perpetual suspense. Under such circumstances a man may be spending his whole life in the production of mischiefs to be revealed to him hereafter, when he will have no power to recall them.

5. And this leads me still more particularly and solemnly to say that men stand connected with each other in methods that lead to the most awful destruction. As an apple, touched with rot, will, simply by lying its cheek alongside of the glowing, blushing cheek of a sound apple, cause that sound apple to decay; so it is in the power of a man, if his morals are tainted, to damage the morals of another man merely by being with him. He is your disciple till he is drawn into evil; but the moment he is fascinated by it he ceases to be your disciple. Suppose I should preach the gospel in some gambling saloon of New York, and suppose a man should come out convicted of his wickedness, and confess it before God, and pray that he might be forgiven. Forgiveness might be granted to him, so far as he was individually concerned. But suppose he should say, “O God, not only restore to me the joys of salvation, but give me back the mischief that I have done, that I may rule it out.” Why, there was one man that shot himself: what are you going to do for him? A young man came to Indianapolis, when I was pastor there, on his way to settle in the West. He was young, and very self-confident. While there, he was robbed, in a gambling saloon, of fifteen hundred dollars--all that he had. He begged to be allowed to keep enough to take him home to his father’s house, and he was kicked out into the street. It led to his suicide. I know the man that committed the foul deed. He used to walk up and down the street. Oh, how my soul felt thunder when I met him! If anything lifts me up to the top of Mount Sinai, it is to see one man wrong another. Now suppose this man should repent? Can he ever call back that suicide? Can he ever carry balm to the hearts of the father and mother and brothers and sisters of his unfortunate victim? Can he ever wipe off the taint and disgrace that he has brought on the escutcheon of that family? No repentance can spread over that. And yet how many men there are that are heaping up such transgressions! (H. W. Beecher.)

Lost blessings:

Some blessings which, when lost, are lost for ever.

1. Opportunities for an education.

2. Purity. Sin may be forgiven, but the memory remains. We can have absolute purity only once.

3. Means of grace. We may improve the present, but the means unimproved in the past are for ever lost.

4. Opportunities for doing good. Present work will not make good past neglect.

5. The blessings of a Christian home in childhood.

6. A soul finally lost. There is a time beyond which there is no redemption. The time will come when you will seek these blessings with tears, but it will be too late--for ever too late. (W. M. Hamma, D. D.)

No going back:

There is an old fairy tale about a knight who was riding along a dangerous road. It was dark and lonely, and there were many wild beasts and robbers along the way. So he thought he would turn back, and see if he could not find another road, which would be less dark and dangerous. But when he turned and looked behind, what did he see? All the road that he had ridden on had disappeared, and at his horse’s heels there was a gulf, so deep that he could not see to the bottom. And so it is in our life. There is no possibility of going back in it. We can never undo what we have done. We use each moment as it comes, either well or ill, and then it is gone, and we can never recall it.

Irretrievable loss

I once had for a brief companionship a sweet friend, a relative, on a visit where I was residing. We used to go out rowing together. She had a way of dallying with her hand in the water over the side of the boat. One time she lost all the rings off from her fingers in an instant. Out of sight of course hopelessly they fell to the bottom. But whenever we rowed across that place again she would gaze restlessly over the edge, trying to search the very lowest depths of the lake. I have even seen her suddenly bare her arm, as if she had caught a gleam of the jewels down in among the weeds, and was going to grasp after them yet l It is a great mockery, this clutching after youth and hope and joy and vanished ambition, when one had come to be an elderly and weather-beaten man. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)

A bitter wail:

How bitter is the wail of the mighty Mirabeau, “If I had but character, if I had but been a good man, if I had not degraded my life by sensuality, and my youth by evil passion, I could have saved France!”

Many a man has felt the same; he has clipped his own wings, he has suffered to be shorn away the sunny locks of the Nazarite who once lay weeping upon his shoulders, and wherein would have lain his strength.

Lost opportunities

A famed German preacher tells that he began life as assistant to a careless old minister. Often he saw the grey-headed man pacing sadly up and down the garden, and overheard him saying, “Oh, that God would give me back my past years!(J. Wells, M. A.)

Esau’s tears:

Those tears of Esau, the sensuous, wild, impulsive man, almost like the cry of some “trapped creature,” are amongst the most pathetic in the Bible. (A. B. Davidson, LL. D.)

A life lost for eighteenpence!

Some time ago a ship went down, having struck a hidden reef. Fortunately, unlike the sad case of the Teution the other day, there was time enough to get the passengers and crew into the boats, which safely held off from the foundering vessel. Just before the last boat started, the captain and mate, having seen that all were safe, stood upon the gangway ready to leave the ship. She was fast sinking--no time to be lost. The mate said to the captain, “I have left my purse below; let me go and get it.” “Man,” replied the other, “you have no time for that; jump at once.” “Just a moment, captain--I can easily get it”; and away the mate rushed below. But in that moment the ship went creeping down. I hear the gurgling flood! The captain has barely time to save himself, when, swirling in the awful vortex, the vessel disappears i By and by the body of the mate was found, and in his stiffened hand was tightly grasped the fatal purse. When the purse was opened, what do you think it contained? Eighteenpence! And for that paltry sum he risked and lost his life.


Verses 18-24

Hebrews 12:18-24

The mount that might be touched

Sinai and Zion

I.
CHRISTIANITY IS A SPIRITUAL, NOT A MATERIAL, DISPENSATION. “The mount that might be touched”--a palpable mountain: the words indicate that the religion thereon proclaimed was a mass of ritual, legal service, and physical endurance; and not that spiritual surrender, and inner life of holiness, essentially belonging to the gospel. The apostle having elaborated this idea, shows that Christians have left behind them the barren Arabian mount, and in approaching God have increased the spirituality of their religion.

II. THOUGH CHRISTIANITY IS SPIRITUAL IN ITS NATURE, IT EMPLOYS MATERIAL FORMS AS ADJUNCTS. Sinai has given place to Zion. We have our material forms, but they are subordinate, not primary: bodies, not souls: servants, not lords.

III. SINAI AND ZION ARE ONLY MARKS OF PROGRESS, NOT FINAL DESTINATIONS. The home is further onward. Our past victories are only earnests of a universal conquest. Lessons:

1. Privilege is the measure of responsibility.

2. There is no limit to progress in love and knowledge. (J. Parker, D. D.)

The sensuous and the spiritual:

All things are capable of being intensified by contrast. There is no colour so bright but it may be made to look doubly so, by placing it by the side of its opposite. There is no beauty so exquisite but it may be made to appear more beautiful, by nearness to the unlovely and deformed. We should not know half the cheeriness of the day, if it were not for the gloom of night. There are some sculptured figures in St. Peter’s, at Rome, which are reduced, to the eye of the beholder, to a third of their real size, by the vastness of everything around them. One half, and sometimes more, of the pleasure of the things that please us comes of the sorrows we have known. Whose are the eyes that greet the light of the morning with the greatest eagerness? Surely, the eyes of those who have watched all the darkness of the night. Whose rest is the sweetest, if not theirs who have toiled the hardest through the day? Who were they whose shout in heaven was like the sound of many waters, as they said: “Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb”? It was the voice of them which had come out of great tribulation. And who was the man who seemed best to understand, and most to revel in, the freedom and love of the gospel, as a system of salvation? Why, it was the man who had most heartily yielded himself up to the whole influence of the former dispensation, and most conscientiously kept his neck in its yoke. And what was the spirit of the first dispensation, as contained in these words? Is it not this?--It was sensuous; it was artificial; it was based on fear. Whilst the great and blessed character of the second is that it is spiritual, it is real, and it is based on love.

I. FROM BEGINNING TO END, JUDAISM WAS AN APPEAL TO SENSE. It was God’s most merciful accommodation of His revelation of Himself and of His will to the necessities of man’s weakness and ignorance. Sinai was designed to he, and was, a splendid Divine answer to a few of the deepest questions of the whole human soul--“Is there a God? And have we anything to do with Him? And what? And will He dwell with us here, upon the earth?” The true answer, Divinely written, at the first, upon the heart and conscience and intelligence of man; ay, written, too, on every leaf of nature’s living page, in golden letters of the sunlight, in silver gleamings from the moon and stars, sharp graven on the mountain edges, on azure page of heaven, had faded from man’s heart and eye and ear. “Is there a God?” said the restless, troubled heart of man. And so, in His own time and way, God gave the answer Himself; and that answer was Sinai. Now look! Yon cloud! It is the robe of Deity. Doubt you? Then hark! And see! Those thunders and sharp lightning flashes are the tramping of His heralds, and the flashing of their spears. Only a storm, say you? Then hark again! What warrior blast is that? So piercing shrill, that, like a steeled sword, it darts through every heart--a blade of fear--and makes the stoutest tremble like a leaf. And then, more awful still, a voice, a voice of words--but not an earthly voice, of human words. The voice of very God. And so God answered these great questions of the human heart. There it was! A great, sensuous thing, that could not but make its own impression on those who saw and heard it, and, through them, might gain the ear and heart of posterity and all the world. And by as much as what we see impresses us more deeply than what we only hear, by so much was this people’s heart more deeply touched than by any simpler revelation of the truth. But because it was sensuous, it was artificial, unreal. As an allegory wraps up a truth in beauteous, but concealing folds; as a picture reveals the countenance of your friend, and yet is not himself, and cannot be more than a miserable substitute for himself; so, all this was not God; it was not even the likeness of God, it was but the shadow of God. And so again, because it was sensuous and artificial, it was terrible. It is of no use to appeal to the reason of a child, or of a savage, or of a man utterly under the dominion of his senses; you appeal to what is not, or to what has lost its power to act. You must, then, appeal to some lower part of his nature; to his self-interest, if he is capable of perceiving it, if not, to his fear. Now what was it that made it necessary for God to reveal Himself and His will to the Jews in a sensuous and artificial way? It was because they were not susceptible of the higher way. They were children, and wanted to see in order to believe. Ay, they were children morally, subject to great temptation, and God wanted them for their own sake to obey Him, and to worship Him; and so, in the first instance, He laid the foundations for their obedience in terrors.

He bound them to Himself by the bands of fear, and holding them thus He then, in the after history of the nation, began to draw them to Himself with the cords of love, the bands of a man. So they came “to the mount,” &c; to the sensuous, the artificial, the terrible.

II. Now, in the second place, let us view the contrast, in all its particulars, which marks THE DISPENSATION UNDER WHICH WE ARE PLACED.

1. All is spiritual. At the first, indeed, it pleased God so far to accommodate His ways to the wants of humanity in this respect, as to give us the truth in a sensible, bodily form. “When the fulness of time was come,” &c. “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us,” &c. And so there was enacted, down here on the earth, once for all, the splendid mystery of the incarnation and the crucifixion and the resurrection. Jesus Christ is the full and complete answer to all those questions that man ever had asked or ever could ask about himself, and God, and all other spiritual facts. But after he had looked for a little while at the new Temple, and the new Priest, and the new law, and the new sacrifice--long enough to feel and see the Divine splendour that was in it, without fully comprehending what it was--it was taken up boldly into the heavenly, that men might know to the full what it was that had been amongst them. But mark you! When it was done, there was not a vestige of the sensuous left. The Holy of Holies was an empty shrine; the very temple was suffered to be thrown down so that not one stone was left upon another; ay, Jerusalem itself, the centre of the whole of the previous system, was desecrated, and has ever since been heathen ground; and the very Jews, the chosen people, the medium of the former revelation, ceased to be a nation, and were scattered among the nations of the earth. And what, then, have we in its place? We have a history, a record, a book, and nothing else. That is to say, we have the truth in its purest, simplest form. The world a temple, thrown open to all mankind; worship possible everywhere, at every time. Would you see God now? Look on the face of Christ, in the mirror of the book, and that is all that you can have. Would you go to God now? Kneel where you are, and He is there, to hear you and to bless.

2. All is real now. There is no exaggeration. Nothing artificial. Christ is the express image of the Father. I do not say that it is the whole truth about God, that we shall come to have some day, when this veil of flesh has been dissolved; but it is all that we can bear.

3. It is as loving and as winning as Sinai was terrible. It makes no appeal to our fears; only to our reason and our love. He is the tender Shepherd of the sheep, come to seek the lost. He is the Father’s plaintive pleading with His rebellious child. He is the outstretched hand of God to every repenting sinner. He is the utterer of a grand amnesty to all the world who will receive it. He lays His Cross athwart the threatening law, and takes away its curse. He is the rebuke of all men’s guilt-born fears about God, and all their hard thoughts of Him. In a word, He is the incarnate love of God pleading with sinful man. (G. W. Conder.)

Man’s place is Christianity

I. MAN’S PLACE IN CHRISTIANITY IS RELATED MORE TO THE SPIRITUAL THAN THE MATERIAL.

II. MAN’S PLACE IN CHRISTIANITY IS RELATED TO THE ATTRACTIVE RATHER THAN THE TERRIBLE. This subject presents a motive for

1. Gratitude.

2. Catholicity. Heaven is not a sect.

3. Self-inquiry. “Are we come”to this system? How do we “come” to it? Not by mere birth, not by profession, but by a new creation in Christ Jesus. (Homilist.)

Ye are come unto mount Sion

The privileges and the duties of believers

I. What are the PECULIAR PRIVILEGES of the members of Christ’s Church?

1. The first and greatest, because the foundation of all the rest is, union with Christ.

2. Association with the whole body of the faithful.

3. The right to the heavenly inheritance.

II. If the PRIVILEGES of all who “are come unto Mount Zion” are thus precious and ennobling, their DUTIES are proportionate.

1. Correspondent to the first-named privilege there is the duty of loyalty to Christ.

2. Correspondent to the second privilege, there is the duty of love to the brethren.

3. It is the duty of the members of Christ’s Church, as heirs of the celestial inheritance, to set their hearts and hopes on heaven. (J. M.McCulloch, D. D.)

The heavenly life

The whole chapter shows that this is the nature of a picture motive. It is an influence rather than a knowledge. And yet how shall one feel influence except through the reason, or through knowledge? But it is the way of the highest instruction to enter through the imagination, and come to the reason in that way. That is the genius, certainly, of the New Testament, in its description of the life above--the life that is to come. It never defines. It seeks not so much to impart knowledge to the reader, as we should call it in this life, as to produce in his mind certain states of feeling. Unskilled men writing, without inspiration, of the new city beyond, of the great afterlife, would have fallen into the mistake of attempting to give in revealed distinctness and accuracy things which by the very terms of our existence we cannot comprehend accurately and distinctly. Not so the inspired teachers. They poetised heaven; they dramatised the future; they gave to man conceptions through his imagination--and not aimlessly, but because through the imagination the sympathies of our nature, hope, joy, trust, aspiration, and the rest, could all be reached. What men need is to be stirred up, and then to be quieted. Intensity and quietude are harmonious in the higher spiritual life. What we want is some motive that will propel us along the sphere of our present life. We do not so much need to know what is to be the daily bread, converse, and activities of the other life; but we do need to know that there is One who has promised us personal sensibility and personal identity there, and that we shall know and be known, love and be loved. We do need to know that heaven is more than a compensation for earth. We do need to know that our being here contributes to immortality, glory, all that belongs to the act of rising into a pure spiritual form and condition where that which is Divine remains and continues in activity. To this Revelation and all the Pauline teachings tend. To this the writings of the unknown author of the Book of Hebrews tend. They give us an inside revelation which reveals nothing. “Well,” say men, “what kind of a revelation is that?” When the poor wayfarer from old plantation life, hiding himself by day, and then beginning to live at night, pursued his weary way toward the north, he had but one guide and that was the polar star. That star said nothing to him. It shed no warmth on him. He did not know its contents. He knew nothing about it. But it was a star that, when he looked upon it, directed him to where liberty was. From that bright point in the far north he gathered zeal, so that in the darkness, through forest, through fen, across streams, over mountains, pressed by adversaries, with hounds baying on his track, he sped on his way. It was the inspiration of that star that supported him, though it revealed nothing to him but this: “You will be free.” So there is no real description of the future life given to us in the New Testament except this: It is more grand than anything that you can conceive. It hath not entered into the heart of man to conceive it. Nor can man’s capacity compass it and take it all in. Nevertheless, what there is in human notions that inspires us with a sense of grandeur we apply to it. Now, the imagination teaches men in such a way that if you accept the description of heaven simply as a picture or vision, it is full of inspiration and hope. When you say that it shall be glorious, it is a good deal; but the moment you attempt to tell what the glory is, it is nothing at all. To say “we shall reign,” is a good deal; but to undertake to tell what reigning is spoils the whole thing. “I love you” fills the soul and makes it vibrate like a harp, but undertake to explain what the love is, and it is turned to ashes at once. Nevertheless, the emotion is real, and the highest and most potent of our feelings are those which do not suffer themselves to be touched. The most glorious things in us are silent, and will not submit to rude handling, dwelling as they do in the centre of the ineffable. How much greater, better, and more untranslatable by mortal knowledge than physical existence is the realm of love! It is all right if you do not want to know what it is and how it works; but the moment you undertake to philosophise about it, its character is changed. The realm of purity is glorious so long as you do not attempt to analyse it; but you may as well bid it good-bye if you commence to reason about it. There are, then, some lessons to be derived from this. Having thrown off the peril of misinterpretation, there are certain great truths that we may deduce from it without resorting to the curiosity-monger’s process--without attempting to anatomise heaven and deal with it scientifically. There are certain elements that it was meant we should derive from the pictures of it, and that, if we consider them aright, may be of exceeding great comfort to us in our Christian life. If it be true that we are to live again; if it be true that we are living here that we may go forward and live in a higher state, then the grandeur of the life that now is out of sight. You cannot tell by the earlier condition of things what their later states are to be. You cannot tell by the bud what the inflorescence is to be. You cannot tell by the flower what the fruit is to be. We cannot understand human life by looking at what it has yet come to under the influence of physical economy. In this life many are discouraged; but let a man maintain integrity under all circumstances and in all conditions, let him always and everywhere act with simplicity and fidelity, let him ally himself to those great qualities which God has revealed to be the centre-current of the universe, and all will be well with him. Love works no ill to one’s neighbour; God’s law is love; “Thou shalt love” is the command; and let a man conform himself to that central law of the universe, and then let death plant him, and we will run the risk of his coming up in the other life. And that ought to be a consolation to a man who in this world is poor and inconspicuous, and, as helpless amid the sweep of human affairs as a last year’s leaf on the current of the Amazon. There are multitudes of such men, to whom a view like that which I have been presenting should carry not only comfort, but a great deal of instruction. Consider another fact in this connection--namely, that in this life the things which make the most ado are not the things which are the most important. There is nothing on earth noisier than a storm beating on the shore, and yet what does it do? It is bred in the desert sea. It lashes itself into a useless rage. It thunders in the heavens, and shakes the earth, and comes pouring down, and is broken into a million globules on the immovable rocks. By-and-by its wrath ceases, it smooths its blow, and the sea is tranquil again. What has happened? Nothing. Not a single thing has been done. A man’s life goes thundering on, and the things which are most in the eyes of men are often of the least possible importance. The rage of nations, the march of armies, the rise of inconspicuous tribes to power, and their deliquescence and fading away again--these things seem great to men; but they come and go, and the earth is no whit changed, and men are no whir changed. So the things which are actually worth chronicling, and which are being chronicled, for ever and for ever, are the things which no man hears or sees. This great empty scroll above our heads is God’s workshop, and He is writing there the history of time and the world. The scroll itself shall shrivel and depart; but the things that are written on that scroll shall never change. A man is not what he seems. This life is not what it appears to be. That which men call nothing--the great invisible realm--is the power which was declared by the apostle to be real. It is the things which are not that bring to naught the things that are. There is dominion in imagination, or in faith, to the man that knows how to avail himself of it. I remark, also, that if these views of the other life,. of the invisible, uninterpreted, and uninterpretable life, of the life of joy and power and grandeur which is to come--but which we cannot define any more closely than this--if these views be true, then how beautiful are the conceptions which are in the nature of comfort to men in the decays that take place in this state of existence! I have always been very much struck by that illustration of Paul’s which is contained in the 15th chapter of 1st Corinthians. He is speaking about the act of dying. And that which is true of the mere act of death is just as true of every other relation that terminates, or of any other composition which is analysed and goes back to its elements again. He says there are two sides to this matter. You cannot stand in the time-world and see what you will see in the world to come. You only see corruption, you only see dishonour, you only see weakness in the natural body. But then there is another side. There is the way in which God sees things, and there is the way in which the heavenly host see them. But what is to be seen on that side? Why, incorruption, glory, power, a spiritual body. If you look up at the bottom of the coffin from the earth side it is all sad and solemn. If you look down upon the coffin from the Divine side it is all radiant, triumphant, joyful. Those that I have known, whose virtues I have dwelt upon, and whose nature has shed great beauty in life, I love to follow, step by step, as they go down toward death. My faith rejoices in their advance till their voices fail out of my ear, and till their faces are hidden from me, because they have gone to live in Zion and before God: Wherefore comfort one another with words: Strengthen each other by the way. Sing and rejoice, knowing that, bright as is any experience here, it is but a twilight experience till the day shall dawn and the sun shall arise upon your souls. (H. W.Beecher.)

The Church likened to a mountain

1. For the height of it. A mountain is higher than the ordinary earth. The Church is high, it is above (Galatians 4:26), and they that be of the Church must carry high and regal minds. We must leave earth, and mount up in our affections into heaven; we must seek the things that be above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God.

2. The Church is compared to a mountain: for the security of it.

3. For the difficulty of ascending to it. A man may not go up a high hill, but it must cost him pains, sweat and labour; so it is a laborious thing to get to heaven.

4. For the immobility of it. The Church is as Mount Zion that standeth fast for ever, and cannot be removed. Happy are they that be of the Church. (W. Jones, D. D.)

Within sight of it, but cannot see it:

Crossing from Belfast to Greenock by the night-boat late one autumn, after several attempts to sleep, I came upon deck soon after the steamer had entered the Clyde, and stood for a time in conversation with the mate, a true son of Erin. A dense haze prevented us from seeing far beyond the vessel, and I was disappointed in not being able to get a view of the coast. Thinking we were still at sea, I remarked to the man at the helm “I suppose we shall soon be in sight of land?” when, judge of my surprise, the following rejoinder was tendered in reply: “Sure, and we’re within sight of it now, but ye can’t see it I “ More than a little amused with the paradox, I thanked my Hibernian friend, and waited till the hills, purple with heather and crowned with the first signs of winter, rewarded my anxious gaze. I knew that with the firs beams which should penetrate the mist the land would be visible, so I kept looking, and had not long to wait. The landscape, aglow with a thousand blended charms as the sun chased away the gloom of night and the mist of the early dawn, soon stood revealed in all its beauty, and forms a memory to be fondly cherished. (V. J. Charlesworth.)

The heavenly Jerusalem

The heavenly Jerusalem

I. THE STATE OF HEAVEN AS A GLORIOUS CITY. “Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.” This is that city

1. Where the most glorious display of Divine wisdom appears, everything conducted with exquisite policy.

2. Where omnipotent goodness operates at large, and deals her favours with the richest profusion (Psalms 16:11).

3. Where the King of Glory Himself dwells, and everything declares His more immediate presence (Revelation 7:15).

4. Where the laws, manners, and employments of the inhabitants most resemble and are most worthy of God.

5. In fine, this is that city which is the first production of the grand Architect of nature, and whither we are at last conveyed; but not till duly prepared for it (Revelation 21:27; Revelation 22:14). See a fine description of this Revelation 21:10-22). And of this city, all real Christians are represented as members, even while they are in this world.

II. OUR ACCESSION OR RELATION TO IT. There is a certain figure made use of by our Saviour and His apostles, a figure that makes futurity present and realises the distant glories of immortality (Matthew 5:3; Ephesians 2:6). And the text says, “Ye are come”;--“already come,” etc. The Christian religion suggests particular grounds for this sublime representation, such as no other system can exhibit. For example, we have

1. The express promise of God to put every persevering Christian into the possession of Mount Zion above (Revelation 22:14; Revelation 2:7; Revelation 2:10).

2. It is farther ascertained from the mediation of Christ, the grand end of which see Hebrews 2:10.

3. The supreme power of the Redeemer (Matthew 28:18), which is equal to remove every difficulty, subdue every enemy, supply every necessity, and exalt to the highest dignity.

III. OUR RELATION TO THE HEAD AND TO THE MEMBERS OF THIS CITY.

1. Ye are come to God, the Judge of all, angels and men; the knowledge of God, His nature, unity, perfections, providence (Ephesians 5:8). The worship and service of God (1 Thessalonians 1:9). To His favour Romans 5:1). His family and household (Galatians 4:6-7). His presence; an event so certain that the apostle at once transports the Christian beyond the grave, to that Being who is the soul’s portion, her centre and final happiness.

2. To Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant: in and through whom both parts of the covenant are reciprocally conveyed and transmitted. Blessings from God to man, through Christ; and duties from man to God, acceptable through Christ. Come to the Mediator, so as to be united to Him; participate a new nature through Him (2 Corinthians 5:17), rely on His sacrifice, obey His commandments, and, according to the aforementioned figure, to be taken by Him at last to the city of God (Revelation 3:21).

3. To an innumerable company of angels. Good men in this world have, indisputably, various connections with those superior beings; they are fellow-subjects and servants (Revelation 22:9). Protected by them Psalms 34:7). Minister to them (Hebrews 1:14). Conduct them to heaven (Luke 16:22). As public heralds, proclaim their Lord’s approach (Matthew 24:31). The apostle here anticipates our incorporation with those happy spirits in glory (Revelation 7:9-12).

4. To the spirits of just men made perfect. We are one community, of the same spirit and disposition, loving the same God, enjoying the same felicity, differing only in degree. They are got home, we are going; they have got the prize, we are wrestling for it.

5. To the general assembly and Church of the firstborn (Romans 8:29; Colossians 1:15-18). It may respect themselves; they are the chiefs the excellent ones, the firstborn. Written in heaven, alluding to the custom of ancient states, who enrolled their freemen; Christians enrolled in heaven Luke 10:20), to signify that they have a right to all the high privileges of the city of God: and when all collected, compose the general assembly, Matthew 24:31; Revelation 7:9).

Of this amazing corporation every Christian becomes a member at the moment of his conversion to God. Improvement:

1. Hence see the peculiar excellency of that religion which animates her proselytes with so glorious a hope.

2. Let our temper and conduct declare our kindred to those serene and happy intelligences.

3. Let the views of these glorious and animated prospects raise our souls to God in grateful adoration of His goodness and love (Psalms 31:21; Psalms 72:18-19). (J. Hannam.)

I live there:

Some one asked a Scotchman if he was on his way to heaven. “Why, man,” he said, “I live there.” He was only a pilgrim here. Heaven was his home. (D. L. Moody.)

Already in heaven:

Are you dreaming, father?” I said one day, when he (Father Taylor) was leaning back in his chair, with closed eyes and a happy smile playing about his mouth. “I am in heaven a little way,” he answered, without moving. “And what is heaven, really?” I asked, climbing upon his knees. “It is loving God,” he replied, still with the same soft dreamy tone. (Mrs. Judge Russell.)

Heaven should be much in the thoughts

A lady, unused to the rough travelling of a mountain land, went thither to make her home, and received from one of her new friends this bit of advice. She had been telling of her faintness when guiding her horse through a deep ford where the waters ran swiftly and the roar was incessant, and said she feared she should never be able to overcome the abject physical terror which dominated her whenever she found herself in the strong current midway between the banks. “Oh, yes, you will,” said her companion. “Just take a leaf in your mouth and chew it, and as you ride across keep your eyes on the other side.” (M. E.Sangster.)

Heaven not flit away:

We measure distance by time. We are apt to say that a certain place is so many hours from us. If it is a hundred miles off, and there is no railroad, we think it a long way; if there is a railway, we think we can be there in no time. But how near must we say heaven is?--for it is just one sigh, and we get there. Why, our departed friends are only in the upper room, as it were, of the same house. They have not gone far off; they are upstairs, and we are down below. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The nobility of the Christian life:

How noble the lowest life may become, like some poor, rough sea-shell with a gnarled and dimly-coloured exterior, tossed about in the surge of a stormy sea, or anchored to a rock, but when opened all iridescent with rainbow sheen within, and bearing a pearl of great price! So, to outward seeming, my life may be rough and solitary, and inconspicuous and sad, but, in inner reality, it may have come to Mount Zion, the city of the living. God, and have angels for its guardians, and all the first-born for its brethren and companions. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

An innumerable company of angels

The office of angels

I. Angels are, as far as we know from revelation, the only beings who take an interest with us in God and the spiritual world. Angels are fellow-citizens with us in the kingdom of Christ. It is certain, moreover, that angels are immortal, but not eternal; that they are very numerous, and have different ranks; that they are used by God as His special ministers, and that they have sympathy with man. But how far this sympathy extends is not so certain. Are they cognisant of human things generally, and of their own accord, or must they in each case be informed by God? In the course of three thousand six hundred years there are, I believe, recorded only twenty instances of angels’ visits, which would allow on the average an interval of one hundred and eighty years between each appearance. Thus their visitations were, in the strict sense of the word, extraordinary, and will be found for the most part to accompany a great national crisis. Next, had angels in those days power to influence the souls of men? It is very questionable. That they led men by the hand, and spoke God’s messages to them, is certain; but it is not so sure that they instilled into the soul a secret thought, or endued the tempted spirit with heavenly grace. Again, when angels are said to have interfered, were they not visible, no phantom or vivid imagination of the mind, but the impression of a visible substance upon the eye and brain? Thus much of the Old Testament. Let us now proceed to the New. Perhaps the first thing which strikes us here is the frequent mention of angels in contrast with their rare appearance under the old dispensation. It is as if the light of the presence of God on earth brought out more vividly the lesser lights of the spiritual world; just as it has been remarked that the evil spirit also is more apparent in the Gospels, and as the light of God’s glory becomes more intense, so is Satan more evident (as witness the Book of the Revelation). Now some of these references belong to the office which angels hold in heaven, as do all the passages that occur in the Revelation. Of the rest, all but one are concerned with the Divine person of their and our Lord, or with momentous events in immediate connection with Him. The exception is the solitary instance of an angel stirring the waters of Bethesda. Thus there is no more evidence in the Gospels than in the Old Testament to justify us in believing that angels exercise their ministry on earth on ordinary occasions, or that they have any spiritual influence on man at all, or that they act in any way without making themselves visible to those whom they approach. Our next step, then, will be to examine what Holy Scripture says of angels after Pentecost. St. Peter is twice rescued by an angel; Cornelius is advised by an angel to send for Peter; Philip the deacon is sent by another to the eunuch; Herod is smitten by an angel; St. Paul had an angel standing by him in the ship. Thus it is clear that angels are not displaced by the Holy Ghost; and these passages are extremely important, as being those to which we should look, rather than to any which precede them, for an answer to the question, what place do angels hold in the Church of Christ on earth? The answer is very explicit on one point at least. The influence of angels in these instances is not spiritual, but external; their aid is in times of physical danger, not of inward temptation. Again the answer is explicit as to their visible presence--confirming the result to which former records in Scripture had led us, that when they interfere they are not only felt but seen. Finding this to be the case, it is natural to inquire how far this view of angels’ ministries agrees with the whole spirit and character of the Christian dispensation. Let me ask your close attention to this portion of the subject. What is the great change wrought in our condition by the holy incarnation of the Son and by the indwelling of the Holy Ghost? Words fail me when I try to answer; let me use the language of St. Paul:--“Now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For He is our peace, who hath made both one … Through Him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.” And rising higher to St. John’s divine words, so wondrously simple and profound, on the truth of the incarnation: “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the Only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth”; and of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit the words of Christ Himself: “The Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in My name, He shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you: let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” This is the change wrought by Christ in the relation of man to God. I will not say, “what room is there here for spiritual aid from angels?” because we know not the boundaries of God’s scheme of mercy to man; but I will ask, is there not here in God’s own presence all that the spirit of man can desire or imagine? Tell me any sorrow, or doubt, or temptation, or critical emergency of life, in which your heart need look elsewhere for aid but to the Holy Ghost? To look for angel’s help against the enemy of souls, when God Himself has promised to abide in us, is worse than for the traveller to seek at his feet a glowworm’s light to show the path when the moon has risen and called the stars about her overhead. Still, after all, much is doubtful. As with the saints departed, so with angels; it is well to think of them often, but safer to think of them as above, not amongst us, each in his happy sphere midway between ourselves and heaven. (Canon Furse.)

The connection between Christian, s and angels

I. WE ARE COME TO THEM AS FRIENDS, from whom we have been separated by the fall. Men and angels, in their original creation, formed but one family; and, though they differed in nature and in residence, they had one Father, and there would have been a free and pleasing intercourse between them. But sin destroyed the harmony of the world. Sin disunited heaven and earth. Sin separated not only between God and men, but between angels and men. When man revolted from his lawful Sovereign, they remained in their allegiance; and as sin rendered God our enemy, so it rendered angels our enemies too. Accordingly we read of their being the executioners of the Divine vengeance. But, in consequence of the mediation of our Lord and Saviour, the breach is healed. We are reconciled not only to God, but to the angels. Men and angels form again one family; they remained in their original state; we are restored to it; and such is the disposition of those celestial beings, that they do not repine, like the elder brother, at the return of the prodigal, but rejoice to welcome the younger branches of the family home.

III. WE ARE COME TO THEM AS ATTENDANTS, whose care is to follow us through life. God’s noblest creatures are His children’s servants. “Such honour have all the saints.”

III. WE ARE COME TO THEM AS WITNESSES, whose observations we are to reverence. It would be well for us to remember that we are always in sight. The eyes of our fellow-creatures are often upon us; and if they were always upon us, they would restrain us from a thousand sins. But invisible beings always behold us. There are cases in which two guilty individuals are implicated. They accuse each other; and no human being was privy to their wickedness. But angels saw Abel and Cain when they were alone together in the field. They can decide, in an intrigue, who was the seducer, and who the seduced. What a world of private wickedness will they develop!

IV. WE ARE COME TO THEM AS PATTERNS, whose example we are to imitate. To these models our Saviour Himself leads us in the form of devotion He gave to His disciples; in which He teaches us to pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is done in heaven.” And, even now, this prayer is accomplished. Between believers and angels there is a resemblance, though not an equality. Wherein does it appear?

1. It appears in the nature of their obedience. We are told that the angels, however great, find it their privilege to serve. Their obedience is ready, without delay; cheerful, without reluctance; constant, without intermission; and impartial, without choice. The reason is, they love God, and it is His will alone they regard. And whatever low idea you may form of a

Christian, such is, and such must be, His leading desire, and His prevailing endeavour.

2. It appears in their union. These beings have various degrees among them. Yet these produce no contempt, no envy, no eagerness to dictate, no backwardness to co-operate. They perfectly harmonise. They have but one spirit, one wish. Shall I say that Christians do resemble all this? Alas 1 there is too little of it in our churches and assemblies.

3. It appears in the subject of their study. The angels are proverbial for knowledge; we read of being “ wise as an angel of God.” Had we heard only of such exalted beings, we should be anxious to know what things they deemed most worthy of their attention. But we are informed. They are “the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow--which things the angels desire to look into.” Are you like-minded? Is this the most welcome subject to your hearts? The most important to your minds?

4. It appears in their worship. They adore the incarnate Redeemer. And is there a Christian upon earth that does not delight in the same praise?

V. WE ARE COME TO THEM AS ASSOCIATES, with whom we are to blend our future being, and from whom we shall derive no inconsiderable part of our happiness. It is not good for man to be alone. He is formed for social enjoyment; and it is a great source of his present pleasure. The representation of heaven meets this propensity. And there are two classes of beings that will contribute much to our satisfaction and improvement. The one is endearing. It takes in those you loved in life, with whom you took sweet counsel together, and went to the house of God in company, your pious friends and relations, who now sleep in Jesus. The other is dignifying. It comprehends patriarchs, prophets, apostles, martyrs--angels. You shall be introduced to company of the very first sort. Angels are the flower of the creation; and the poorest, meanest believer shall enjoy it; and be prepared for it. Let us conclude with two questions.

1. How can it be said that “we are come to” this blessed assembly? By the certainty of the event. By promise--and “ he Scripture cannot be broken.” By hope-and “hope maketh not ashamed.” By anticipation, by earnests, by foretastes of this exalted felicity.

2. To whom are you come? (W. Jay.)

The nature of angels:

I. THEY ARE THE HIGHEST OF ALL CREATED BEINGS, WHOSE HOME IS THE IMMEDIATE PRESENCE OF GOD. They were heaven’s earliest inmates, when “ the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy.” They see God face to face continually; they worship Him, and rest not day and night from praising Him; their obedience is perfect and secure; where laws end, love begins. To borrow the image of South, like a cup of crystal thrown into a brim-ruing river, which first is filled, then lost in the stream, so sinks their overflowing love in the love of God. Nor is their vision limited to heaven. Once they saw the eternal Son descend from thence to earth, and marked His life and death, and ministered to Him in His abasement and His glory. With sympathetic insight into the mystery of redemption, yet there remained things into which they “desired to look.” And now that the Son has returned in glory to His eternal home, they look for the fulfilment of His joy; watching for the coming in of souls for whom He died; rejoicing when one by one are drawn into the circle those for whom He prayed, “Father, I will that they also, whom Thou hast given Me, be with Me, where I am.” And when through the contentions of a doubtful life grace has at last prevailed, who can tell the joy with which through the yielding air they spread their level wings, and bear in their hands the sour of the contrite, secure from sin, far off into Abraham’s bosom?

II. Lastly, as to THEIR ADORATION OF GOD IN HEAVEN. Worship is angels’ work; and in the contemplation of their office here no room is left for difference or doubt. The Old Testament and the New conspire in holy emulation to reveal the heavenly vision in the noblest terms. Worship is the sum of the life in heaven; and what is the noblest work of our life on earth? The same. As among our natural passions and affections towards our fellows love is the highest, and has mightiest influence, so towards God is worship. Worship is love sublimated by the majesty of God. Think what the example of angels teaches us in this great portion of the Christian life.

1. First, that worship is only possible in the presence of God. Their worship in the Church above is only more perfect than that of saints in the Church below, because they are more near to God. The sight of Him is their joy; and such will be yours, if yours be the promise, “Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.” Meanwhile what sight is now to angels, and will hereafter be to you, is at the present time your faith.

2. Next this apprehension of the Divine Presence fills them with awe and reverence. The cherubim with his wings covers his face and his feet; the angels before the throne fall on their faces. Such a thought may give us a rule of conduct in our acts of worship. In all our public devotions, above all at Holy Communion, let our commonest actions be ruled by a tender spirit of reverence.

3. Again their worship exercises not only their affections, but their intelligence. They understand what they worship. The principle of all true worship is this--“I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.”

4. Above all with their praises and their prayers goes on the sweet accompaniment of an obedient will, a heart attuned to the love of God, sympathy with all His doings in judgment and in mercy, sympathy with His holiness and His vengeance against sin.

5. Again we little know how much we are affected by the example of numbers. The numbers on one side or the other decide the choice of waverers. We cast our lot into the heaviest scale. The broad way, though it lead to death, has its contented wayfarers, chiefly because it is so broad; the narrow way discourages so many, because there are so few that walk in it. Then, like Elisha’s servant, open your eyes and see the hosts of angels serving God, exceeding in number the generation of men, whom you see afraid to confess Him here.

6. Lastly to think of their happiness! happiness, so rare a gift, that among friends it is but seldom named, and then under their breath, and in a tone almost of despair of finding it; each heart knowing its own bitterness; the stranger not intermeddling with it, the friend unable to hear it, so he must let that alone for ever! And then to read of angels’ happiness, so perfect, so secure! (Canon Furse.)

General assembly and Church of the firstborn

The Church of the firstborn

I. THE SPIRIT OF THE CHRISTIAN DISPENSATION.

It is pre-eminently mild and gracious. This being so, it becomes those who are under it, and who have been made partakers of its blessings, to cultivate a spirit in accordance therewith. A spirit of slavish terror, however befitting the law, is altogether unsuitable to the gospel. It is related of Titus, the Roman emperor, when a certain petitioner presented his address to him with a trembling hand, that he was much displeased; and addressing the affrighted suppliant, he asked, “Dost thou present thy petition to thy prince as if thou wert giving meat to a lion?” While a spirit of reverence might have been proper on such an occasion, he regarded the extreme fear which this person displayed as altogether unbecoming. A spirit of trembling fear should be avoided by the Christian, being forbidden by the many gracious assurances which God has given to encourage us in our approaches to His throne; and also as being opposed to the distinctive features of the dispensation under which we dwell,

II. THE NATURE AND PRIVILEGES OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH.

1. Its unity.

2. Its glory. Judging by outward appearance, the Church of Christ may appear despicable; much that is ignoble and mean may be seen in its members. But is it so in reality? What I ignoble, when the city they belong to is the city of the great King; a city whose streets are of gold, whose gates are of pearls, and into which the glory and honour of the nations shall be brought! And then there is, not merely the city of the believer’s habitation, but his associates and his friends. Talk of meanness, when myriads of angels, and the great multitude of the redeemed, are his companions [

3. Its spirituality. “But ye are come”--come to what? To things pre-eminently glorious; but they are at present invisible, being spiritual realities, objects of faith, and not of bodily vision.

The firstborn

Sweeter to our ear than the full chorus of bright skies and greenwood, are the first notes of the warbler that pipes away the winter, and breaks in on its long, drear silence! And more welcome to our eye than the flush of summer’s gayest flowers, is the simple snow-drop that hangs its pure white bell above the dead bare ground. And why? These are the firstborn of the year, the forerunners of a crowd to follow. In that group of silver bells that ring in the spring with its joys, and loves, and singing birds, my fancy’s eye sees the naked earth clothed in beauty, the streams, like children let loose, dancing and laughing, and rejoicing in their freedom, bleak winter gone, and Nature’s annual resurrection. And in that solitary simple note, my fancy hears the carol of larks, wild moor, hillside, and woodlands full of song, and ringing all with music. And in Christ, the Firstborn, I see the grave giving up its dead; from the depths of the sea, from lonely wilderness and crowded churchyard they come, like the dews of the grass, an innumerable multitude. Risen Lord! we rejoice in Thy resurrection. We hail it as the harbinger and blessed pledge of our own. The first to come forth, Theft art the Elder Brother of a family, whose countless numbers the patriarch saw in the dust of the desert, whose holy beauty he saw shining in the bright stars of heaven. The firstborn! This spoils the grave of its horrors, changing the tomb into a capacious womb that death is daily filling with the germs of life. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)

The general convocation around Mount Zion

I. First, I want to set out, A CONTRAST PRESENTED IN THE ENTIRE PASSAGE--a contrast between the economy of law and the economy of grace.Every good thing is enhanced in value by its opposite. The contrast between free grace and law makes grace appear the more precious to minds that have known the rigour of the commandment. The contrast presented here is sevenfold. First, as to place, “Ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched” (Hebrews 12:18); “But ye are come unto Mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem “(Hebrews 12:22). Behold Sinai with its rugged crags: scarce had a human foot ever trodden it: perhaps until that hour in which Jehovah descended upon it in splendour it had remained a virgin peak, which the foot of man had never polluted. It was sublime, but stern and tempest-beaten. God came upon Sinai with His law, and the dread mount became a type of what the law would be to us. It has given us a grand idea of holiness, but it has not offered us a pathway thereto, nor furnished a weary heart with a resting-place. The Jews under the law had that stern hill for their centre, and they compassed it about with pale countenances and trembling knees. We gather to quite another centre, even unto the palace-crowned steep of Zion. There David dwelt of old, and there David’s Lord revealed Himself, This mount which might be touched, we are told, in the next place, “burned with fire.” God’s presence made the mountain melt and flow down. Jehovah revealed Himself in flaming fire. What, then, have believers come to instead of fire? Why, to another form of fire: to “ an innumerable company of angels”--“He maketh His angels spirits, His ministers a flame of fire.” God comes to us by them: “He rode upon a cherub, and did fly.” Pursue the contrast, and you find on Mount Sinai that there was blackness, doubtless made the more intensely black as the vivid lightnings flashed out from it. “Ye are not come unto blackness,” says Paul, What is the contrast to this? “But ye are come to the general assembly and Church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven.” Blackness is the symbol of sorrow, it is the garb of mourning. Everywhere we associate blackness with grief; but now Paul sets before us the grandest embodiment of joy. The word for general assembly in the original suggests a far-reaching festivity. “Ye are come to the paneguris: to a solemn festive assembly, comparable to the National Convocation of the Greeks, which was held around the foot of Mount Olympus, every four or five years, when all the Greeks of different states came together to keep up the national feeling by festivities and friendly competitions. Follow the next point of contrast, and you have darkness mentioned. “Nor unto blackness, and darkness.” The cloud on Sinai was so dark as to obscure the day, except that every now and then the lightning-flash lit up the scene. What are we come to in contrast to that darkness? “To God the Judge of all.” “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.” What a contrast to the darkness of the law is a reconciled God! And what follows next? Why, tempest. It is said, “Ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest.” All over the top of Sinai there swept fierce winds and terrible tornadoes, for the Lord was there. All heaven seemed convulsed when God did rend it, and descended in majesty upon the sacred mount. But what do you and I see? The very reverse of tempest--“The spirits of just men made perfect,” serenely resting. They are perfect, they have fought the fight, they are full of ecstatic bliss, the glory of God is reflected from their faces; they have reached the fair haven, and are tossed with tempest no more. Follow the contrast further, and you coma to the sound of a trumpet. This resounded from the top of Sinai. Clarion notes most clear and shrill rang out again and again the high commands of the thrice-holy God. You are not come to that. Instead of a trumpet, which signifies war and the stern summons of a king, ye are come unto “Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant,” and the silver tones of “Come unto Me, all ye,” &c. The seventh contrast lies in this--together with the trumpet there sounded out a voice, a voice that was so terrible that they asked that they might not hear it again. We have coma to another voice, the voice of “the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.” There is a voice from Zion, there is a voice that rolls over the heads of the innumerable company of angels, a voice of the Lord that is full of majesty, and exceedingly comfortable to the “ general assembly and Church of the firstborn,” who know the joyful sound.

II. There is A COMPARISON in our more central text. “We are come to the general assembly and Church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven.” It is a comparison, not with anything Jewish, for that would not have been suitable, but with a Gentile festival, which more readily lent;itself to the apostle’s great thought. In Greece, in her happier times, in order to preserve a national unity, the various states, kingdoms, or republics, which constituted Greece proper, held at the foot of Olympus a great gathering, to which none came as participators except citizens of the various Greek nationalities. The object of the gathering was that every part of the Greek nature might be educated and displayed, and the unity of the Greek race be remembered. How much I wish that we could look upon all the conflicts, sufferings, and troubles of this mortal life as occupations of the great festive gathering which is now being held in heaven and in earth around the city of our God. If we all understand that this period is not comparable to a battle, whereof the result hangs in the balance, but comparable to those deeds of prowess wherewith of old men celebrated a victory, then the face of things is altered, and our toils are transfigured. Angels come down, and poor men and women are lifted up, in patience triumphing, and giving pleasure to their Lord, and bringing honour to that favoured city which God has prepared for them. Oh, the bliss of feeling that even nosy heaven is begun below, and the sufferings of this present life are but a part of the glory of the Lord manifested in His people!

III. The third point is--A COMING TO BE ENJOYED. This is the essence of it all We are come unto this general assembly and Church of the firstborn. How then do we come? This festival is only for the firstborn, and you are not that by nature. You must first be born again, and become one of the firstborn. The Spirit of God must make you a new creature in Christ Jesus, and then the porter will open the wicket, and say, “Come in, and welcome.” Which part are you going to take in this great gathering? Will you fight against sin? Will you wrestle against error? Will you run for the crown? Will you sing or speak? What will you do in this great congress of all the saints? (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Anticipating holy society

Socrates was glad when his death approached, because he thought he should go to Hesoid, Homer, and other learned men deceased, whom he expected to meet in the other world. How much more do I rejoice, who am sure that I shall see my Saviour Christ, the saints, patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and all holy men who have lived from the beginning of the world! Since I am sure to partake of their felicity, why should not I be willing to die, to enjoy their perpetual society in glory? (Henry Bullinger.)

Intercourse between heaven and earth

I was reading the other day that, on the shores of the Adriatic Sea, the wives of fishermen whose husbands have gone far out upon the deep are in the habit, at eventide, of going down to the seashore, and singing, as female voices only can, the first stanza of a beautiful hymn. After they have sung it, they listen till they hear, borne by the wind across the desert-sea, the second stanza, sung by their gallant husbands as they are tossed by the gale upon the waves; and both are happy. Perhaps, if we could listen, we, too, might hear on this desert-world of ours some sound, some whisper, borne from afar, to remind us that there is a heaven and a home; and, when we sing the hymn upon the shores of earth, perhaps we shall hear its sweet echo breaking in music upon the sands of time, and cheering the hearts of them that are pilgrims and strangers and look for a city that hath foundations. (J. Cumming, D. D.)

The general assembly written in heaven:

We have in this whole passage a description of the Catholic Church as it is now revealed to us under the gospel. And this is put in contrast with the state of the Church under the law. The kingdom is now united, and the Church is catholic; and those who come into it are not only joined in mutual earthly fellowship, but they come into union, as real, although not so conscious and apparent, with the Church invisible and glorified. As we consider some aspects of this subject, let us try to think and feel ourselves into that higher fellowship.

I. We come to that unseen and glorious company BY OUR KNOWLEDGE. We have far more actual knowledge of the invisible world than we vivify and use. We know, that when flitting like shadows here, from place to place, and ever nearer to the grave, there is a city which hath foundations, in the records of which our names may be enrolled. We know that when struggling and crowding here--striving for space and room, and particular standing--there is a house of many mansions, and a place prepared for each, large enough for the developments of the immortal life. Our knowledge is in some respects limited enough. We cannot see it; we cannot come to it in the flesh; flesh and blood shall not inherit it; no mortal hand can draw aside the veil, nor pierce it, although it sometimes seems so thin. Perhaps if we were better, purer, more saintly, we could safely be trusted with more light on the future, and it is certain that if we ask and look and wait we shall attain to more. We are like men gazing towards the land from the deck of a ship. A dim outline appears, like a cloud, at which they strain their sight; until by the movement of the vessel and the custom of the eye it becomes clearer and clearer still. The mountains gradually reveal their peaks; then the valleys show; then the corn; then the smoke of the cottage; the group by the cottage door; the apples on the tree; and then--the vessel is in port. So, by looking, heaven becomes clearer; as welook, it comes more near. To us as individuals, this revelation will be much or little, according to our personal realisation of it. Our knowledge may be a lamp unlighted as well as burning. It may be a map of a country on which we seldom look, or on which we trace with careful finger every mountain ridge, every river and plain. Central Africa is now opened, and to the world it can never be a blank any more. Some individuals may know very little of it, yet that knowledge is a possession to the race for ever. And so, to the world has been given the unalienable possession of the knowledge of the “better country, the heavenly,” which is on the other side of death, in which the Saviour is, into which He has already gathered myriads of His friends, to which so many of our own friends have gone, and to which we ourselves are travelling.

II. We come to the invisible Church BY OUR FAITH. We come to it more by our faith than by our knowledge. Faith is knowledge glorified, and vitalised; it is, as the former chapter tells us, the “ substance of things hoped for.” It makes the objects of our cognition so real and vivid that we possess in our thought the very substance of them. We have such assured confidence in their existence that the removal of them from the realm of faith would be like taking away the solid world from our senses. “Faith is the evidence of things not seen.” It proves them, and presents them so that the mind feels their presence; sees them; is solemnised by them; holds them fast! It redeems our humanity from its degradation to know that there are men, who, while living here, are also living yonder--who have a life hidden as well as visible “ with Christ in God.” We believe that He is. We believe that our friends are with Him; and if we can come to Him, and to them, in our daily faith--in the seekings, strivings, and settlings of our souls, then we are believers indeed. We may form what views we will on the time and nature of the resurrection--on the intermediate state, or on the physical characteristics of the life to come. If only we come to Him--our High Priest within the veil, and our forerunner there--we shall in due time stand rejoicing in His presence.

III. “We are come” to that invisible triumphant Church, IN OUR LOVE, as truly as in our knowledge and our faith. All heaven-born souls love the place of their birth. Born again, or born from above, is to have enrolment and citizenship there--it is to have our treasure there and our heart also.

IV. And all these comings, need we say? are presages of THE FINAL PERSONAL COMING BY DEATH into the “general assembly and Church of the firstborn in heaven.” We speak often of death as a going away, and picture to ourselves the spirit passing into vast solitudes, friends and dear familiar scenes all left behind, as it looks out upon the first reaches and roundings of the everlasting journey. Some thoughtful writers have dwelt much on the loneliness of death, until one has felt intensely solitary in the prospect. They have fixed upon the fact that each of us must meet death alone, and, of course, that is true, at least as regards earthly companionships. But that even then we shall be absolutely alone is only conjecture; and if we must conjecture, I for one would rather take the other side, and believe that since God gives us company here from the moment of birth to the moment of death, He will have other company awaiting us there, so that we shall take no step in loneliness or dread, but enter at once and easily into the higher fellowships, and go forward with a cheerful confidence through the valley of transition. (A. Raleigh, D. D.)

God the Judge of all

Faith’s access to the Judge and His attendants

I. FAITH PLANTS US AT THE VERY BAR OF GOD. Here is a truth which it is the office of faith to realise continually in our daily lives. Your loving access to God, Christian men and women, has brought you right under the eye of the Judge, and, though there be no terror in our approach to that tribunal, there ought to be a wholesome awe as to the permanent attitude of our spirits, the awe which is the very opposite of the cowering dread which hath torment. Then, again, notice that this judgment of God is on e which a Christian man should joyfully accept. “The Lord will judge His people,” says one of the Psalms. “You only have I known of all the inhabitants of the earth; therefore will I punish you for your iniquities,” says one of the prophets. Such sayings represent this present judgment as inevitable, just because of the close connection into which true faith brings a man with his Father in heaven. Inevitable, and likewise most blessed and desirable, for in the thought are included all the methods by which, in providence, and by ministration of His truth and of His Spirit, God reveals to us our meannesses; and delivers us sometimes, even by the consequences which accrue from them, from the burden and power of our sin. So, then, the office of faith in regard of this continuous judgment which God is exercising upon us because He loves us is, first of all, to open our hearts to it by confession, by frank communion, by referring all our actions to Him to court that investigation. And then, further, remember that this judgment is one that demands our thankful acceptance of the discipline which it puts in force. If we knew ourselves we should bless God for our sorrows. These are His special means of drawing His children away from their evil.

II. FAITH CARRIES US WHILE LIVING TO THE SOCIETY OF THE LIVING DEAD. “The Judge of all, and the spirits of just men made perfect.” Immediately on the thought of God rising in the writer’s mind there rises also the thought of the blessed company in the centre of whom He lives and reigns. “The spirits of … men made perfect.” That is to say, they dwell freed from the incubus and limitations, and absolved from the activities, of a bodily organisation. Then, further, these spirits are “perfect.” The writer has said, at the close of the preceding chapter, that the ancient saints “without us should not be made perfect.” And here he employs the same word with distinct reference, as I suppose, to his previous declaration. From which I infer that Jesus Christ shot some rays of His victorious and all-reconciling power from His Cross into the regions of darkness, and brought thence those who were waiting for His coming through many a long age. A great painter has left on the walls of a little cell in his Florentine convent a picture of the victorious Christ, white-robed and banner-bearing, breaking down the iron gates that shut in the dark rocky cave; and flocking to Him, with outstretched hands of eager welcome, the whole long series from the first man downwards, hastening to rejoice in His light, and to participate in His redemption. So the ancient Church was “perfected” in Christ; but the words refer, not only to those Old Testament patriarchs and saints, but to all who, up to the time of the writer’s composition of his letter, had “ slept in Jesus.” They have reached their goal in Him. But yet that “ perfecting “does not exclude progress, continuous through all the ages; and especially it does not exclude one great step in advance which, as Scripture teaches us, will be taken when the resurrection of the body is granted. Corporeity is the perfecting of humanity. Body, soul, and spirit, these make the full-summed man in all his powers. And so the souls beneath the altar, clothed in white, and lapt in felicity, do yet wait for the adoption, even the redemption of the body. Mark, further, that these spirits perfected would not have been perfected there unless they had been made just here. That is the first step, without which nothing in death has any tendency to ennoble or exalt men. If we are ever to come to the perfecting of the heavens, we must begin with the justifying that takes place on earth. Let me point you to one other consideration bearing not so much on the condition as on the place of these perfected spirits. It is very significant that they should be closely associated in our text with “ God the Judge of all.” Is there any hint that men who have been redeemed, who, being unjust, have been made just, and have had experience of restoration and of the misery of departure, shall, in the ultimate order of things, stand nearer the throne than unfallen spirits, and teach angels? (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

God the Judge of all

I. I am to show THAT IT IS A VERY AWFUL, THOUGH A COMFORTABLE, THING TO CONVERSE WITH GOD THE JUDGE OF ALL.

1. The majesty and glory of the great God makes it awful conversing with Him.

2. God’s omniscience is another thing which makes it solemn conversing with God as Judge of all (Hebrews 4:13).

3. The purity and holiness of God make it a solemn thing for polluted sinners to have any converse with Him.

4. The strictness of God’s law, which is the rule of judgment, makes it a solemn thing to converse with this great and glorious Judge. God judges of all my thoughts and actions by the same law now that sentence is to be passed by in the great day of accounts.

Use 1. Is it so solemn a thing for believers in Christ to come to God the Judge of all; how or “where then must the sinner and the ungodly appear”?

2. Is it so solemn a thing to converse with God the Judge of all? Then, believer, how seldom art thou in a right frame for duty. You know with what solemnity and preparation they of old attended on God when giving the law. The people were sanctified to-day and to-morrow, and washed their clothes to be in readiness against the third day (Exodus 19:10). Is there less call for preparation and solemnity under the gospel? are trifling frames and a worldly spirit any part of that liberty we have in Christ? Dare we go to holy ordinances drowned in the cares of this life, reeking in the filth of some unsubdued lust?

3. Learn from what has been said, the only way to think of future judgment with pleasure and comfort. It is by coming to God the Judge of all, now.

4. What a blessed gospel is that which reveals the only righteousness wherein a poor guilty sinner may appear before God with comfort!

II. How Is IT THAT SUCH A CONVERSE IS BEGUN BETWEEN A HOLY GOD AND POOR SINNERS?

1. It is begun in the conviction or sensibleness a soul has that he is a guilty lost sinner.

2. In order to a poor sinner’s comfortably conversing with God the Judge of all, there must be a free confession of all sin and a subscribing to the rights of His justice. This is called an accepting of the punishment of one’s iniquity (Leviticus 26:41) and a clearing and justifying God when we are judged (Psalms 51:4).

3. In order to a poor sinner’s comfortable converse with God the Judge of all, there must be an absolute renouncing all righteousness of his own.

4. The way to have comfortable converse with God the Judge of all is to come before Him in the Mediator’s righteousness and to plead it with Him as thy justifying righteousness.

Use: 1. If there be no coming to God as Judge of all with comfort but by confessing sin, their state must be sad who seek comfort by hiding or lessening sin.

2. Must a soul be brought to submit to the rights of God’s justice in order to a comfortable converse with Him as Judge of all? then woe to all such as quarrel with God’s judgment.

3. Must all self-righteousness be renounced in order to a comfortable converse with God the Judge of all? How contrary is that doctrine which sets up the creature’s sincere obedience as a part of our gospel-righteousness!

III. IN WHAT INSTANCES AND BY WHAT METHODS THIS CONVERSE WHICH BELIEVERS HAVE WITH GOD THE JUDGE OF ALL IS MAINTAINED AND CARRIED ON.

1. I am to give some instances wherein believers have comfortable converse with God the Judge of all, through the whole of their gospel profession and walk. The apostle speaks of it as a privilege attending their state, not a blessing peculiar to some extraordinary frames. It is a believer’s settled mercy and daily duty to converse with God the Judge of all.

2. How or by what special methods this comfortable converse with God is promoted and maintained.

3. By what means this comfortable converse with God as Judge of all is prevented and interrupted?

Use: 1. Surely a believer’s converse with God must be very precious when Satan finds out so many ways to prevent and interrupt it. Were it then, the office of faith in regard of this continuous judgment which God is exercising upon us because He loves us is, first of all, to open our hearts to it by confession, by frank communion, by referring all our actions to Him to court that investigation. And then, further, remember that this judgment is one that demands our thankful acceptance of the discipline which it puts in force. If we knew ourselves we should bless God for our sorrows. These are His special means of drawing His children away from their evil.

II. FAITH CARRIES US WHILE LIVING TO THE SOCIETY OF THE LIVING DEAD. “The Judge of all, and the spirits of just men made perfect.” Immediately on the thought of God rising in the writer’s mind there rises also the thought of the blessed company in the centre of whom He lives and reigns. “The spirits of … men made perfect.” That is to say, they dwell freed from the incubus and limitations, and absolved from the activities, of a bodily organisation. Then, further, these spirits are “ perfect.” The writer has said, at the close of the preceding chapter, that the ancient saints “ without us should not be made perfect.” And here he employs the same word with distinct reference, as I suppose, to his previous declaration. From which I infer that Jesus Christ shot some rays of His victorious and all-reconciling power from His Cross into the regions of darkness, and brought thence those who were waiting for His coming through many a long age. A great painter has left on the walls of a little cell in his Florentine convent a picture of the victorious Christ, white-robed and banner-bearing, breaking down the iron gates that shut in the dark rocky cave; and flocking to Him, with outstretched hands of eager welcome, the whole long series from the first man downwards, hastening to rejoice in His light, and to participate in His redemption. So the ancient Church was “perfected” in Christ; but the words refer, not only to those Old Testament patriarchs and saints, but to all who, up to the time of the writer’s composition of his letter, had “slept in Jesus.” They have reached their goal in Him. But yet that “perfecting” does not exclude progress, continuous through all the ages; and especially it does not exclude one great step in advance which, as Scripture teaches us, will be taken when the resurrection of the body is granted. Corporeity is the perfecting of humanity. Body, soul, and spirit, these make the full-summed man in all his powers. And so the souls beneath the altar, clothed in white, and lapt in felicity, do yet wait for the adoption, even the redemption of the body. Mark, further, that these spirits perfected would not have been perfected there unless they had been made just here. That is the first step, without which nothing in death has any tendency to ennoble or exalt men. If we are ever to come to the perfecting of the heavens, we must begin with the justifying that takes place on earth. Let me point you to one other consideration bearing not so much on the condition as on the place of these perfected spirits. It is very significant that they should be closely associated in our text with “ God the Judge of all.” Is there any hint that men who have been redeemed, who, being unjust, have been made just, and have had experience of restoration and of the misery of departure, shall, in the ultimate order of things, stand nearer the throne than unfallen spirits, and teach angels? (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

God the Judge of all

I. I am to show THAT IT IS A VERY AWFUL, THOUGH A COMFORTABLE, THING TO CONVERSE WITH GOD THE JUDGE OF ALL.

1. The majesty and glory of the great God makes it awful conversing with Him.

2. God’s omniscience is another thing which makes it solemn conversing with God as Judge of all (Hebrews 4:13).

3. The purity and holiness of God make it a solemn thing for polluted sinners to have any converse with Him.

4. The strictness of God’s law, which is the rule of judgment, makes it a solemn thing to converse with this great and glorious Judge. God judges of all my thoughts and actions by the same law now that sentence is to be passed by in the great day of accounts.

Use: 1. Is it so solemn a thing for believers in Christ to come to God the Judge of all; how or “where then must the sinner and the ungodly appear”?

2. Is it so solemn a thing to converse with God the Judge of all? Then, believer, how seldom art thou in a right frame for duty. You know with what solemnity and preparation they of old attended on God when giving the law. The people were sanctified to-day and to-morrow, and washed their clothes to be in readiness against the third day (Exodus 19:10). Is there less call for preparation and solemnity under the gospel? are trifling frames and a worldly spirit any part of that liberty we have in Christ? Dare we go to holy ordinances drowned in the cares of this life, reeking in the filth of some unsubdued lust?

3. Learn from what has been said, the only way to think of future judgment with pleasure and comfort. It is by coming to God the Judge of all, now.

4. What a blessed gospel is that which reveals the only righteousness wherein a poor guilty sinner may appear before God with comfort!

II. How Is IT THAT SUCH A CONVERSE IS BEGUN BETWEEN A HOLY GOD AND POOR SINNERS?

1. It is begun in the conviction or sensibleness a soul has that he is a guilty lost sinner.

2. In order to a poor sinner’s comfortably conversing with God the Judge of all, there must be a free confession of all sin and a subscribing to the rights of His justice. This is called an accepting of the punishment of one’s iniquity (Leviticus 26:41) and a clearing and justifying God when we are judged (Psalms 51:4).

3. In order to a poor sinner’s comfortable converse with God the Judge of all, there must be an absolute renouncing all righteousness of his own.

4. The way to have comfortable converse with God the Judge of all is to come before Him in the Mediator’s righteousness and to plead it with Him as thy justifying righteousness.

Use: 1. If there be no coming to God as Judge of all with comfort but by confessing sin, their state must be sad who seek comfort by hiding or lessening sin.

2. Must a soul be brought to submit to the rights of God’s justice in order to a comfortable converse with Him as Judge of all? then woe to all such as quarrel with God’s judgment.

3. Must all self-righteousness be renounced in order to a comfortable converse with God the Judge of all? How contrary is that doctrine which sets up the creature’s sincere obedience as a part of our gospel-righteousness!

III. IN WHAT INSTANCES AND BY WHAT METHODS THIS CONVERSE WHICH BELIEVERS HAVE WITH GOD THE JUDGE OF ALL IS MAINTAINED AND CARRIED ON.

1. I am to give some instances wherein believers have comfortable converse with God the Judge of all, through the whole of their gospel profession and walk. The apostle speaks of it as a privilege attending their state, not a blessing peculiar to some extraordinary frames. It is a believer’s settled mercy and daily duty to converse with God the Judge of all.

2. How or by what special methods this comfortable converse with God is promoted and maintained.

3. By what means this comfortable converse with God as Judge of all is prevented and interrupted?

Use: 1. Surely a believer’s converse with God must be very precious when Satan finds out so many ways to prevent and interrupt it. Were it not a great privilege, it would be less envied, less obstructed.

2. How needful is a doctrinal clearness in the business of a sinner’s justification in the sight of God! Confusion in the mind and judgment makes confusion in the soul’s comfort.

3. To show what a blessed privilege such a comfortable converse is in the whole of believers’ course heavenwards. Wherein the privilege of such a converse does consist.

Christians have to do with God as Judge:

When, a few years since, a Mahometan convert at Calcutta came to Lal Behouri Sing for baptism, the missionary asked him, “What was the vital point in which he found Mohammedanism most defective, and which he found that Christianity satisfactorily supplied?” His prompt reply was--“Mohammedanism is full of the mercy of God; and while I felt no real consciousness of guilt as the breaker of God’s law, this satisfied me; but when I felt my guilt, I felt that it was not with God’s mercy, but with His justice that I had first to do. Now to meet the claims of God’s justice Mohammedanism had made no provision; but this is the very thing that I have found fully accomplished by the atoning sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, and therefore Christianity is now the only adequate religion for me, a guilty sinner.” (C. Stanford, D. D.)

The spirits of just men made perfect

The contemplation of departed saints

1. The contemplation of departed saints is calculated to reconcile us to our lot upon earth, however adverse and afflictive in its nature. What was the condition of these exalted and glorified spirits while they tabernacled upon earth? Did their station here in any way resemble the state in which they are now placed? Or, did their worldly circumstances foreshow what they have come to enjoy? No doubt some of them were men of rank and affluence; but still, it is well known that many of them were persons of low degree, who were subjected to want, who were pinched with poverty, and oppressed with both personal and relative affliction during the period of their mortal life. Amongst these there is a Job, there is a Lazarus, who was under the disagreeable necessity of begging his bread. We here learn that neither poverty nor affliction is any mark of the Divine displeasure; but that the troubles which afflict the just, on the contrary, may be great and many in number. Besides, we have here the most convincing evidence that God will reject none on account of his indigent circumstances or diseased body; but that the poor and afflicted may nevertheless be amongst the friends of heaven.

2. The contemplation of departed saints is calculated to preserve us from despondency under a consciousness of guilt and imperfection. As this may be occasioned by a deep sense of guilt and depravity, so a means of preventing it may be found in contemplating the spirits of just men made perfect. Though they were created anew in Christ Jesus unto good works, and were studying to die unto sin and live unto righteousness; yet they had reason to complain of the little progress which they made in the way of holiness. Though they all delighted in the law of the Lord after the inward man, and in some measure accounted it as their meat and drink to do the will of God; yet they were at times neglectful of their duty, and, through inadvertence or the strength of temptation, were stepping aside from the path of rectitude. There was not one of them that always did good and never sinned. Why, then, should Christians despond while they recollect what these objects of their contemplation once were, and attend to what they now are. These once struggled against the corruption of nature, but they have obtained the victory. Instead of being excluded from the beatific presence of Jehovah, and falling under the condemnation of the Almighty, they are now reaping the honours and the felicity of the righteous. Yes, they are “the spirits of just men made perfect”: their guilt is wholly cancelled, and their depravity is completely done away.

3. The contemplation of departed saints is calculated to support and comfort us under all our trials and afflictions. The saints in heaven have been made perfect as in holiness, so also in blessedness: they have entered into glory; they have removed from a world of trial and suffering to the land of eternal rest, where there is no more sorrow nor sighing, no more sickness nor death.

4. The contemplation of departed saints is calculated to animate us in the discharge of duty, and to make us persevere in the practice of holiness. Methinks I now see them holding forth the ensigns of royalty, and hear them saying to us who profess to be the disciples of Jesus: “These are the rewards which God hath given, Be not weary, then, in well-doing, for you will at length reap if you faint not.”

5. The contemplation of departed saints is calculated to console our minds while mourning on account of the death of our Christian friends. Though they are absent from the body, yet they are present with the Lord. Though the frail house of their earthly tabernacle is dissolved, yet they have obtained the building of God, “the house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” (John Ralston, M. A.)

Benefits of meditation on God’s saints

1. First, let us think what an encouragement it is to us to go forward on our Christian course with zeal, perseverance, and steadiness, when we reflect on that perfect state of peace and holiness to which “ the spirits of the just “ shall be admitted in the eternal world.

2. Again, let us consider, that if we are indeed faithful servants of Christ Jesus, then we are members of that Comumnion of Saints, that mystical body, whereof He is the Head. Then we are entitled to a place among patriarchs, prophets, saints, and martyrs. Then the glory to which we shall be admitted at last is as much above the glory of the greatest prince or potentate on earth, as heaven itself is above this world. Such, and so great, is the dignity of the true Christian.

3. Another thing to be considered is, of the deep, sincere, and thorough humility which must be expected of those who think to be admitted into the blessed society of “ the spirits of just men made perfect.” Indeed, the true dignity of the Christian consists in his humility:--“He that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” How can we in reason expect to be “ numbered with God’s saints in glory everlasting,” if it be not our constant study to follow them as they followed Christ, “in all lowliness and meekness, in long-suffering and loving forbearance”? And these considerations will be still further heightened in proportion as we remember, on the one side, our own worthlessness even at the best; and on the other, the vastness of that mercy, the boundlessness of those promises which are held out to us. For to a mind which is at all well disposed, nothing can be more touching, nothing more humbling, than to receive kindnesses from one whom we have injured. What, then, must be our feelings when we contemplate our behaviour to God, and how He has requited us! “ What heart can think of these things worthily?” or how can we sufficiently bow ourselves down with humility?

4. Let me, in conclusion, call to your thoughts what comfort and encouragement there is in this heavenly doctrine of “ the spirits of just men made perfect,” to be received into the eternal joy of their Lord. Comfort and encouragement in respect of ourselves, in making us patient, cheerful, and thankful; and in our conduct towards others, in making us brotherly and kind, and still looking forward to a happier meeting in a world where neither sin nor sorrow can enter. (Plain Sermons by Contributors to “ Tracts for the Times. ”)

The immediate blessedness of departed saints:

What an announcement! For the manner in which this passage is introduced sufficiently shows that it is designed to impart encouragement and solace, to awaken spiritual-mindedness and hope. And yet there is something which seems to mock us, which may excite our consternation, depress our zeal. “Ye are come to the spirits of just men made perfect.” Know we not otherwise? The link between ourselves and those whom we loved is broken. Does it not seem to trifle with us, when we are “bereaved indeed,” to tell us that we are come to them from whom we are so hopelessly and irreparably torn? “Ye are come to the spirits of just men made perfect.” Our natural apprehensiveness is thus excited by the appeal. Creatures of flesh and blood, nothing seems so strongly to fasten upon our instinctive fear as spiritual contact and communication. Who would wish to behold the dearest friend whom he had ever loved, returning a spirit from the region of spirits, with their manner and mystery? What nerve could encounter the interview? What fondest heart could endure the shadowy embrace? And do we not shrink when we are bidden to approach this ghostly band? “Ye are come to the spirits of just men made perfect.” Our ardour is depressed. Our sympathy is checked. Our imitation is debarred. Little fellowship can we claim with their refined essences, their unalloyed purity and bliss- they subsist beyond the range of our ideas and susceptibilities. But the purpose of the Holy Ghost in these words must stand: that purpose can only be tender, consolatory, assuring. And is it not most kind and cheering to inform and certify us, that they, who are thus departed, are not lost? That, rescued from the burden of this flesh and delivered from the hazard of this world, they expatiate in the freedom of a nature ethereal and incorruptible? And is it not animating and triumphant for us to perceive, in their release, the pledge and model of our exaltation, when our spirits shall throw off their oppressions, and shall attain to yonder state of immaterial being? Come, then, to these spirits--endeavour to conceive of them, to catch their fervours, to reciprocate their joys, to respond their strains!

I. “WHO ARE THEY? WHENCE CAME THEY?” They are not the natives of heaven. They have no proper birthright in it. They belong to a very different sphere. They are men. They have been prepared, while on the “earth which was given to them,” for their present abode. They have been brought hither by an act utterly independent of their original constitution. It is a state altogether strange and new. They constitute the just. Only the just can be in a condition of safety and favour, only the just can be endued with a nature of sanctity and love. Theirs is a true sense of right, of duty, the firm habit of fidelity.

II. THESE “JUST MEN” ARE NOT ANY LONGER IN OUR PRESENT SPHERE, OR KIND, OF EXISTENCE. We are summoned to meditate them in a new condition. The image of the earth is effaced. They are no more seen in a compound nature. They are “spirits.” All beside is left in the grave. Nothing material cleaves to them. But it is the higher essence--the intellect the consciousness--the self--which this disembodiment must suppose. How may this state of spiritualism be conceived? It is described as subsisting in intimate union with the Saviour. It is to “ depart and to be with Christ.” It is to “be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.” He “receives” them. This is the great distinctiveness of their present condition. Their inward nature, drawn forth from the outward, is in a relationship; in an access to the Blessed Redeemer far different from any enjoyment of His presence, or communion with His person, known on earth. In addition to this immediate presence of the Redeemer-God, that light in which they see light, the light of the Lamb -the spirits of just men are “made perfect.” This is a discovery of their state which greatly explains itself. This spirit is matured in its powers and consummated in its joys. According to its capacities it is complete. All its true aims are unfolded. It is wrought out into its fullest development. It is a condition of pure spiritualism. Certain facts suggest themselves as the necessary accompaniments of such a condition.

1. The consciousness must be very distinct. The self revolves upon its own centre, ever substantiating what it really is, ever enjoying its proper exercises of understanding and emotion. This “hidden man” lives in his own light. Nothing is attached to the spirit which can divert this concentrated impression.

2. The inward life must be very strong. The whole soul, all that is within it, is absorbed in that deep and holy sense.

3. The intellectual faculty must be very clear. It still “ follows on to know the Lord,” it still “follows hard after God.”

4. The meditative abstraction must be very intent.

5. The adoring gratitude must be very earnest.

6. Its awaiting aspiration must be very glad. The disembodied saint ascertains the future stage to which it constantly approaches, which is the last of all, and which is only wanted to complete his entire being. He understands its nature. He is assured of its certainty. Oh, the transition, the passage of the spirit, escaped from earth, released from mortality, to this glorious state! Spirit!--which hast long walked in darkness, brooded in sorrow, pined in weariness--spirit! which wast long tossed with tempest, harassed by hostility, vexed with care--spirit! which didst long groan within thyself--spirit! long bound to sense and chained to infirmity spirit! long lacerated and bruised with inward wounds--spirit! the shadow of whose guilt hitherto lay upon thee though forgiven, the effort of whose depravity until now struggled in thee though subdued--Christian soul depart! Go forth to rest and home!

III. THESE SEPARATED SPIRITS ARE REPRESENTED TO US AS IN A STATE OF EXALTED ADVANCEMENT, DEPENDING UPON THEIR DISEMBODIMENT. This doctrine of immediate happiness was not entirely concealed from the ancient saints. Their language occasionally leads us to think that they had some conception of it (Psalms 16:10; Psalms 73:24; Psalms 49:15; Isaiah 57:2).Christ was the Conqueror. “He spoiled principalities and powers.” Of Him it was declared that He should “swallow up death in victory.” He ascends! He is “received up into glory!” There are not only the angels and the chariots in their thousands of thousands--there is another train! All holy spirits follow Him who had appeared a spirit to them in their place of keeping. They now forsake that place for “things above.” And, therefore, it is said in the text: “Ye are come to the spirits of just men made perfect.” But this is asserted as a privilege unknown before. It arises from the new covenant in contradistinction from the old. It is explained: “God having provided some better things for us” (than for those who died before the rising of Christ) “that they without us” (without living until our time and under our dispensation) “should not be made perfect.” But they are now made perfect, in common with us. This “perfection “ is bestowed upon all past, as well as for all future, time, and “ye are come to the spirits of just men made perfect!”

1. The spirits of just men will be made perfect in holiness.

2. Such spirits are raised to the perfection of wisdom.

3. These souls of the departed are perfectly secure.

4. A fulness of beatitude must be contained in their perfection.

They can know no want: yet are they full of holy desires, ever waking only to be satisfied, ever longing only to be fulfilled. The vessel at each moment overflows: but at every moment it also is enlarged. There are pleasures for evermore. The source of all is in the Infinite Plenitude. The river of life proceedeth out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.

IV. THERE ARE RELATIONS WHICH UNITE THE JUST ON EARTH, AND THE SPIRITS OF THE JUST IN HEAVEN, NOTWITHSTANDING THE DISPARITY OF THEIR RESPECTIVE CONDITIONS. Certain affinities may be discovered between mind and mind in this world, which are not restricted to personal intercourse, which operate as in defiance of the laws of space. And the announcement of the text is but the enlargement of such mental affinities. It is not said that we shall come to the spirits of just men made perfect, but that we are.

1. There is unity. To impress this upon our minds the Church is shadowed by various figures, all of which have respect to its indivisibility. It is a city, a corporate community, but all, who are enrolled in it, partake of common immunities, and are “fellow-citizens with the saints.” It is a household. It is a household of faith and of God. They of this household are all they who are the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. “Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named.” Its distribution in these different abodes affects not its identity. It shall find even in heaven many mansions. It is a body. “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.”

This, then, is no fiction nor ideal. It is based on our union with Christ. We are all one in Him. We are joined to the Lord, and are one spirit. It is, therefore, declared to have been the design of God in redemption, to bind, in communion and identification, all His people, however scattered abroad on earth, or however raised to the glories of a higher existence. “That in the dispensation of the fulness of times, He might gather together in one, all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth, even in Him.” “And having made peace through the blood of his Cross, by Him to reconcile,” or to unite, “all things unto Himself; by Him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.” These are the links which separation cannot weaken, and which death cannot dissolve.

2. There is resemblance. Heaven is doubtless a place. But we must rather conceive of it as a state of mind. The heaven of perfect spirits must be chiefly this. This state of mind--far transcending all present attainment of knowledge, sanctity, and joy--consists not in estrangement and extreme. It is not alien from what is now experienced. There is no principle, no companionship, no employment, no rapture, of that region, but has in the Christian on earth its foretaste and counterpart. He “hath the Father and the Son.” “The Spirit dwelleth in Him.” “He hath eternal life.” He is a “partaker of the glory that shall be revealed.” The heaven which he enters and enjoys is but the expansion of principles and emotions he long has known. He has been changed already into the image of the Divine glory, “from glory to glory.” He wanted but this consummation. The last of dying triumph, and the first of empyrean rapture, may thus easily and naturally blend: and in the yearnings of a kindred mind, we now come to the spirits of just men made perfect. Do we not know it? Have we not found it? Are now our affections set on things above? Does not the holy city come down from God out of heaven? Is not our conversation in heaven?

3. There is endearment. A holy affinity unites us to the spirits of just men made perfect. They are the Church of the first-born: they are our elder brethren. Our desire is to them. Are they weaned from us? Are we forgotten? Is all sympathy withdrawn? Hearts grow not selfish in heaven. Spirits made perfect can abandon no love which it was ever their right to form, their duty to maintain, their benefit to exercise: their perfection is the pledge that each holy attachment is raised to that perfection.

4. There is appropriation. We already have obtained a portion in heaven. “Joint-heirs with Christ Jesus,” He has claimed it for us. He is our

Forerunner. “He has for us entered.” He “now appears in the presence of God for us.” We “come to the spirits of just men made perfect,” for they inhabit our country, they dwell ill our home. They have preceded us, but things to come are ours,” and their title is no surer than our own. (R. W. Hamilton, D. D.)

Disembodied saints

I. THEY CONSCIOUSLY LIVE IN A DISEMBODIED STATE.

II. THEY CONSCIOUSLY LIVE IN A MORALLY PERFECT STATE.

III. THEY CONSCIOUSLY LIVE IN A GLORIOUSLY SOCIAL STATE.

IV. THEY CONSCIOUSLY LIVE IN A SPIRITUALLY ACCESSIBLE STATE.

1. We come to them in a loving memory of their histories.

2. We come to them by appropriating their principles of action.

3. We come to them by a participation of the sources of their joy.

4. We come to them in earnest hope.

Lessons:

1. The worthlessness of all worldly and adventitious distinctions.

2. The paltriness of religious sectarianism.

3. The infinite value of Christ’s office.

4. The blessedness of death to the good. (Homilist.)

Advent of the living to spirits departed

“Spirits”--because resurrection is future. The bodies still tenant the grave or the deep--only the spirits are free. This is that state of “deliverance from the bondage of the flesh,” in which Jesus Himself, quickened with a new vitality, went and preached, between death and resurrection, to “spirits,” themselves separate from the body. This is that state, “Paradise” Jesus called it, in which the dying penitent beside Him should that day be His companion, spirit with spirit. “Just men,” or righteous: not in that self-righteousness “which is of the law”; not in that righteousness which Christ Himself, He said, came not so much as to “call” or to evangelise; on the contrary, “just” in the justice of the Just One--righteous in the merit of a full justification, and in the grace of a progressive and at last perfect sanctification. “Just men made perfect.” Completed and consummated in that holiness which, begun below by the work of the Holy Spirit, is at last finished and accomplished for ever; to be sullied no more, nor grieved any more, by the contact or presence of evil: sealed now with the stamp of a blessed immortality, and waiting only the gift of a transformed body to make the whole man anew in the very image and likeness of God. “Ye are come to the spirits of just men made perfect.” We read and speak often of Christ’s coming--His coming in the flesh, His coming in the Spirit, His coming in glory. Here we read of an advent, not of Christ, but of the Christian; an advent, not in the future tense, but in the perfect--not anticipative or progressive, but finished and done. But this is not the world which the text opens. The text bids us see ourselves tenants and citizens of a world out of sight. Like the prophet’s servant in Dothan, we are to open our eyes to a mountain full of chariots and horsemen of fire--and those “chariots” of God are “thousands of angels”; and those “horsemen” are God’s saints, already gone from amongst the living, but present with us, for companionship and for sympathy and for communion still. You have had, you have made, an advent--an advent for abode, an advent for perpetuity. “Ye are come to the spirits of just men made perfect.”

1. The first and least thing here said--itself great and glorious too--is the union of the Christian living with the Christian dead in their faith and in their example. It is a thought not without comfort, that, as Christians, we have an ancestry and a pedigree. The continuity is not broken. The Church of all time is one. Then disgrace not your family. Bring no blot upon your escutcheon. You are come to the spirits of the perfect. You join on to them in the genealogical tree. Be followers, be imitators of them, as they once, in their day and generation, were of Christ.

2. Ye are come to the spirits and souls of the righteous in their sympathy. There is a living as well as a memorial sympathy between the Church on earth and the Church in heaven. All the glimpses given us in Holy Scripture of the mind and life of Paradise seem to point this way. It was of no sleeping soul that Christ spoke on the Cross to the malefactor beside Him. It is no bathing in Lethe, for the obliteration of earth’s memories and the annihilation of human affections, which the gospel opens to us as the prize of the race to him that overcometh. “Rest with us” is something different from this selfish, this isolated, this drowsy repose. Even nature demands something different. There is an instinct as well as a revelation of this advent of the living to the departed. We want it for comfort, we want it for admonition. God has knit together His elect in one communion and fellowship. There is a communion of saints as well as a Catholic Church; the militant and the perfected are not two societies, they are one. Have any of as a friend in the happy land--father or mother, sister or wife, friend closer than a brother? Remember then, remember for use as well as for consolation, that you “are come” to that other--come, by an advent such as there is none between the living. The stripping off of this carcase gives a sympathy, gives a contact, gives an intuition of love such as cannot be had here. You are come to the dead, as you cannot come to the living. See then that you give joy, only joy, to the inhabitants of that world.

3. “Ye are come to the spirits of the righteous” in their single, their engrossing devotion to Christ their Lord. It is said, I scarcely care to ask whether in history or fiction, that there was one from whom had been taken away by the stroke of death “ the desire of his eyes,” the wife of his youth. He had laid her in the earth; yet night after night she visited him in his chamber, herself yet not herself, the same but a thousandfold more beautiful--and in that periodical converse, making night day for him and darkness light, he half forgot his bereavement and his desolation. One night she came, and he could not repress an exclamation upon her peculiar beauty. “I never saw you,” he said, “so lovely.” She said, “It is my last visit to you: to-morrow I am to see Him, and after that sight I shall have no eye for aught else.” He saw her no more. Is not this, perhaps, the answer to those questions so often agitated by the mourner as to the future sight and recognition of friends? Be sure that nothing shall be denied thee in that world, which could give thee solace or satisfaction. If thou desirest there thy friend’s face or voice or hand, be sure thou shalt have it. Nevertheless, when thou shalt have been there but a little while; when, if so it be, after a season of preparation, as it were of purifying and anointing for “the day of the espousals,” thou shalt actually have seen the King in His beauty--I say not that thou shalt be debarred then from other sight or other converse; but this I say--the desire for aught else will have left thee; all other love, not destroyed, not diminished, rather ten thousandfold enhanced, will yet be absorbed and swallowed up in that; thy loved one, and thou, will be so wrapped up in another love and higher, that the selfish love will be gone, and only the Divine love will continue. (Dean Vaughan.)

Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant

The messenger of the covenant and its seal:

I. GOD’S REVELATION TO US IS IN THE FORM OF A COVENANT. Just as when a king gives forth a proclamation, he is bound by the fact that he gave it forth, so God, out of all the infinite possibilities of His action, condescends to tell us what His line is to be, and He will adhere to it. He lets us see the works of the clock, if I may so say, not wholly, but in so far as we are affected by His action. What, then, are the terms of this covenant? We have them drawn out, first, in the words of Jeremiah, who apprehended, when he was dwelling in the midst of that external system, that it could no be a final system; and next, by the writer of this letter quoting the prophet; who, in the midst of the vanishing of that which could be shaken, saw emerging, like the fairy form of the fabled goddess out of the sea-foam, the vast and permanent outlines of a nobler system. The promises of the covenant are, then, full forgiveness as the foundation of all, and built upon that knowledge of God inwardly illuminating and making a man independent of external helps, though he may sometimes be grateful for them; then a mutual possession, which is based upon these, whereby I, even I, can venture to say, God is mine, and, more wonderful still, I, even I, can venture to believe that He bends down from heaven, and says: “And thou, thou art Mine!” And then, as the result of all--named first, but coming last in the order of Nature--the law of His commandment will be so written upon the heart that delight and duty are spelt with the same letters, and His will is our will. If these, then, be the articles of the paction, think for a moment of the blessedness that lies lived in this ancient, and to some of us musty, thought of a covenant of God’s. It gives a basis for knowledge. Unless He audibly and articulately and verifiably utters His mind and will, I know not where men are to go to get it. And then, again, let me remind you how here is the one foothold, if I may so say, for confidence. If God hath not spoken there is nothing to reckon upon. There are perhapses, probabilities, if you like, possibilities, but nothing beyond. And no man can build a faith on a peradventure.

II. JESUS CHRIST IS THE EXECUTOR OF THIS COVENANT. The depth of the thought is only reached when we recognise His divinity and His humanity. He is the ladder with its foot on earth and its top in heaven. Because God dwells in Him, and the Word became flesh, He is able to lay His hand upon both, and to bring God to man, and man to God. He brings God to man by the declaration of His nature incarnate in humanity. And, on the other hand, He brings man to God; for He stands to each of us as our true Brother, and united to us by such close and real bonds as that all which He has been and done may be ours if we join ourselves to Him by faith. And He brings men to God, because in Him only do we find the drawings that incline wayward and wandering hearts to the Father. And He seals for us that great covenant in His own Person and work, in so far as what He in manhood has done has made it possible that such promises should be given to us. And, still further, He is the Mediator of the covenant, in so far as He Himself possesses in His humanity all the blessings which manhood is capable of deriving from the Father, and He has them all in order that He may give them all. There is the great Reservoir from which all men may fill their tiny cups.

III. NOTE THE SPRINKLING OF THE BLOOD WHICH SEALS THE COVENANT. The blood shed establishes the covenant; and the blood sprinkled brings us into it. If Jesus had not died there would have been no promises for us, beginning with forgiveness and ending in wills delighting in God’s law. It is “the new covenant in His blood.” The death of Christ is ever present to the Divine mind and determines the Divine action. Further, that sprinkling, which introduced technically and formally these people into that covenant, represents for us the personal application to ourselves of the power of His death and of His life, by which we may make all God’s promises our own, and be cleansed from all sin. It is “sprinkled.” Then it is capable of division into indefinitely small portions, and of the closest contact with individuals. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Christ the Mediator of the covenant

I. Consider Christ, our Mediator, in His REASON. His person is amiable; He is all made up of love and beauty. He is the effigies of His Father, “the express image of His person.” Consider

1. Christ’s person in two natures.

2. His two natures in one person.

II. Consider Christ, our Mediator, in His GRACES: these are the sweet savour of His ointments that make the virgins love Him. Christ, our blessed Mediator, is said to be, “full of grace and truth.” He had the anointing of the Spirit without measure. Grace in Christ is after a more eminent and glorious manner than it is in any of the saints.

1. Jesus Christ, our Mediator, hath perfection in every grace. He is a panoply, magazine, and storehouse of all heavenly treasure, all fulness.

2. There is a never-failing fulness of grace in Christ.

3. Grace in Christ is communicative, His grace is for us; the holy oil of the Spirit was poured on the head of this blessed Aaron that it might run down upon us. Use

1. Admire the glory of this Mediator; He is God-man, He is co-essentially glorious with the Father.

2. If Christ be God-man in one person, then look unto Jesus Christ alone for salvation.

3. Is Jesus Christ God and man in one person? This, as it shows the dignity of believers, that they are nearly related to one of the greatest persons that is,” in Him dwells the fulness of the Godhead bodily,” so it is of unspeakable comfort. Christ’s two natures being married together, the Divine and human, all that Christ in either of His natures can do for believers, He will do. (T. Watson.)

The privileges and blessings of the new covenant

I. WHAT IS INCLUDED IN THIS GRAND AND AMIABLE CHARACTER BY WHICH OUR BLESSED LORD IS HERE REPRESENTED TO US AS MEDIATOR OF THE NEW COVENANT? The Mediator betwixt God and man, acting in the Father’s name, and by His authority, and acting in our behoof, and for our salvation.

1. But more particularly, in our serious attention to this subject, our urgent need of Him, in this great capacity, may first naturally occur to our thoughts. What man could not do, God hath effected. Our help is laid upon One who is mighty and able to save to the uttermost all who come unto God through Him.

2. For it is to be observed that Jesus Christ is constituted and appointed by the Father Himself to this great office, to be Mediator of the new covenant.

3. But further. The Mediator of the new covenant is fully qualified to discharge this great office, to sustain this high character. The Redeemer of man is the Sea of God. Hence the infinite value and efficacy of His meritorious sufferings, and prevailing mediation

4. But He is the Mediator of the new covenant, through whom, and in virtue of whose atonement for sin, and satisfaction to Divine justice, the covenant is established and ratified, and all its benefits purchased. In a word, the full pardon of sin; established peace with God; the adoption of children; the grace of His Spirit; victory over sin and death; and a state of eternal happiness in the world to come.

5. But further, as Mediator of this covenant, He acts with God for man, that we may be brought to a compliance with the terms of the covenant, be reconciled in our hearts unto God, and live as the ransomed of the Lord. This is evidently necessary, in order to our receiving the blessings of this covenant. This work of mediation is carried on by His Word, by His servants speaking in His name, by the ordinances of the gospel, and by the influences of His Spirit.

6. He is the Mediator of the new covenant, who carrieth on the blessed work of mediation for us, now in His exalted state, and will continue to do so, until all its purposes shall be finally accomplished.

II. Consider WHAT IS IMPLIED IN THE EXPRESSIONS “ WE ARE COME TO HIM.” Ye believe in Him as the Mediator of the new covenant. Ye see His excellency and all-sufficiency. Ye have received Him to be your Redeemer; ye have assented to the terms of His covenant on your part, and have yielded yourselves unto the Lord through this Mediator. Ye are spiritually united to Him. Ye live in a state of union and friendship with Him. Ye abide in Him by faith and love, and ere long shall ye be for ever with Him. That communion is now begun, which shall be hereafter perfected; because He liveth ye shall live for ever also. (J. Williamson.)

What is required in the Mediator between God and men:

He must have the natural power of God and the natural power of man. In an advocacy so original and peculiar as that which involves mediation between God and man, it is past our ability to conceive how it could be otherwise. The stairway of light seen in the splendid imageries of the patriarch’s dream, touched both worlds, or it would not have been a medium of communication; a bridge flung across the river must touch both shores, or it could not be a medium of passage; and it seems but the language of fair analogy to say that a mediator between God and man must, in the mystery of his being, touch both natures, or he could not be the medium of intercourse. (C. Stanford, D. D.)

The blood of sprinkling

The blood of Abel and the blood of Jesus

I. JESUS’ BLOOD SPEAKS BETTER THINGS IN GENERAL. What did the blood of Abel say? Was it not the blood of testimony? When Abel fell to the ground beneath his brother’s club, he bore witness to spiritual religion. He died a martyr for the truth that God accepteth men according to their faith. Our Lord Jesus Christ, being also a testifier and witness for the faith of God, spake better things than Abel, because He had more to speak, and spake from more intimate acquaintance with God. Moreover, the blood of Abel spake good things in that it was the proof of faithfulness. His blood as it fell to the ground spake this good thing--it said,” Great God, Abel is faithful to Thee.” But the blood of Jesus Christ testifies to yet greater faithfulness still, for it was the sequel of a spotlessly perfect life, which no act of sin had ever defiled; whereas Abel’s death furnished, it is true, a life of faith, but not a life of perfection. Moreover, we must never forget that all that Abel’s blood could say as it fell to the ground was but the shadow of that more glorious substance of which Jesus’ death assures us. Jesus did not typify atonement, but offered it. It is well to add that our Lord’s person was infinitely more worthy and glorious than that of Abel, and consequently His death must yield to us a more golden-mouthed discourse than the death of a mere man like Abel.

II. Now we will remember that THE BLOOD OF JESUS SPEAKS BETTER THINGS TO GOD than the blood of Abel did. The blood of Abel cried in the ears of the Lord, for thus He said to Cain, “The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto Me from the ground.” That cry did not go round to seek a mediator, but went directly to the judgment-seat of God, and laid an accusation against the murderer. Can you stand at Calvary now and view the flowing of the Saviour’s blood from hands, and feet, and side? What are your own reflections as to what that blood says to God? That blood crieth with a loud voice to God, and what doth it say? Does it not say this? “O God, this time it is not merely a creature which bleeds, but though the body that hangs upon the Cross is the creature of Thy Holy Spirit, it is Thine own Son who now pours out His soul unto death. O God, wilt Thou despise the cries and the tears, the blood of Thine own Son?” Then, moreover, the voice would plead, “It is not only Thy Son, but Thy perfectly innocent Son, in whom was no necessity for dying, because He had no original sin which would have brought corruption on Him, who had moreover no actual sin, who throughout life had done nothing worthy of death or of bonds. Canst Thou see it, Thou God of all, canst Thou see the infinite holy and just Son of Thy heart led here to die, and not feel the force of the blood as it cries to Thee?” Was there not added to this fact that our Lord died to vindicate the honour of His Father? “For Thee, O God, for Thee He dies! If Thou wert content to stain Thine honour or to restrain Thy mercy, there were no need that He should give Himself.” Is there not power in this voice? Yet over and above this the blood must have pleaded thus with God:--“O God, the blood which is now being shed, thus honourable and glorious in itself, is being poured out with a motive which is Divinely gracious. O God, it is a chain for God in heaven which binds the victim to the horns of the altar, a chain of everlasting love, of illimitable goodness.” Now you and I could not see a man suffer out of pure benevolence without being moved by his sufferings, and shall God be unmoved? the perfectly holy and gracious God?

III. Furthermore, JESUS’ BLOOD SPEAKS BETTER THINGS TO US IN OUR OWN HEARTS than the blood of Abel. When the sinner looks to Jesus slain, he may well say, “If I did not know that all this blood was shed for me as well as by me, my fears would multiply a thousandfold; but when I think that that precious blood is shed instead of mine, when I think that that is the blood of God’s own dear Son, whom He has smitten instead of smiting me, making Him bear the whole of His wrath that I might not bear it, O nay God, what comforts come streaming from this blessed fountain!” Just in proportion as thought of murder would make Cain wretched, in the same proportion ought faith to make you happy as you think upon Jesus Christ slain; for the blood of Christ must have a more powerful voice than that of Abel, and it cries therefore more powerfully for you than the blood of Abel cried against his brother Cain.

IV. JESUS’ BLOOD, EVEN IN MY TEXT, SPEAKS BETTER THINGS THAN THAT OF ABEL. It speaks the same things but in a better sense. Did you notice the first text? God said unto Cain, “What hast thou done?” Now that is what Christ’s blood says to you: “What hast thou done?” Ah! Lord, done enough to make me weep for ever if it were not that Thou hast wept for me. What I want mainly to indicate is this. If you notice in the second text, this blood is called “the blood of sprinkling.” Whether Abel’s blood sprinkled Cain or not I cannot say, but if it did, it must have added to his horror to have had the blood actually upon him. But this adds to the joy in our case, for the blood of Jesus is of little value to us until it is sprinkled upon us. Faith dips the hyssop in the atoning blood and sprinkles it upon the soul, and the soul is clean. The application of the blood of Jesus is the true ground of joy, and the sure source of Christian comfort; the application of the blood of Abel must have been horror, but the application of the blood of Jesus is the root and ground of all delight. There is another matter in the text with which I conclude. The apostle says, “We are come to the blood of sprinkling.” Now, from the blood of Abel every reasonable man would flee away. He that has murdered his fellow desires to put a wide distance between himself and the accusing corpse. But we come to the blood of Jesus. It is a topic in which we delight as our contemplations bring us nearer and nearer to it. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The blood of sprinkling

I. WHAT IS IT? What is this “blood of sprinkling”? In a few words, “the blood of sprinkling” represents the pains, the sufferings, the humiliation, and the death of the Lord Jesus Christ, which He endured oil the behalf of guilty man. He properly, but yet most generously and spontaneously, came and shed His precious blood in the stead of sinners, to bring the guilty near to God. But the text does not merely speak of the blood shed, which I have explained to you, but of “the blood of sprinkling.” This is the atonement applied for Divine purposes, and specially applied to our own hearts and consciences by faith.

1. The blood of sprinkling is the centre of the Divine manifestation under the gospel. Observe its innermost place in the passage before us.

2. I next ask you to look at the text and observe that this sprinkling of the blood, as mentioned by the Holy Ghost in this passage, is absolutely identical with Jesus Himself. If you have done with the blood of sprinkling, you have done with Jesus altogether; He will never part with His mediatorial glory as our sacrifice, neither can we come to Him if we ignore that character.

3. Observe that this “blood of sprinkling” is put in close contact with “the new covenant.” To us Jesus in His atonement is Alpha and Omega, in Him the covenant begins and ends.

4. But I want you to notice that according to the text the blood is the voice of the new dispensation. Observe that on Sinai there was “the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words; which voice they heard that entreated that the word should not be spoken to them any more.” You look, therefore, under the new dispensation, for a voice, and you do not come to any till you reach the last object in the list, and there see” the blood of sprinkling that speaketh.” Here, then, is the voice of the gospel; it is not the voice of a trumpet, nor the voice of words spoken in terrible majesty; but the blood speaks, and assuredly there is no sound more piercing, more potent, more prevailing.

5. Observe, that this voice is identical with the voice of the Lord Jesus.

6. This blood is always speaking. It always remains a plea with God, and a testimony to men.

7. This precious blood speaks better things than that of Abel.” It saith, “There is redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins according to the riches of His grace.” “He His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree, that we being dead to sins should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes we were healed.” “He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.” The voice of the blood is this, “For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.” “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin.”

II. WHERE ARE WE? I have to explain what is meant by the expression which is found in the twenty-second verse of the chapter, “Ye are come.” Link the twenty-second verse with this twenty-fourth, and read, “Ye are come to the blood of sprinkling.”

1. Well, first, ye are come to the hearing of the gospel of the atoning sacrifice. You are come to hear, not of your sin and its doom, not of the last judgment and the swift destruction of the enemies of God, but of love to the guilty, pity for the miserable, mercy for the wicked.

2. In a better sense, going a little further, we have not only come to the blood of sprinkling by hearing about it, but we have come to it because the great God now deals with us upon methods which are founded and grounded upon the atoning sacrifice of Christ.

3. Further, there is a far more effectual way of coming to the blood of sprinkling than this--when by faith that blood is sprinkled upon our souls. This is absolutely needed: the blood shed must become to each one of us the blood sprinkled.

4. Further, to come to this blood of sprinkling means thankfully to enjoy all that comes to us through the blood of sprinkling.

5. I think, once more, that this coming to the blood of sprinkling means also that we feel the full effect of it in our lives. The man who knows that Jesus shed His blood for him, and has had that blood applied to his conscience, becomes a sin-hating man, consecrated to Him who has cleansed him.

III. WHAT THEN?

1. Do not refuse the voice of Jesus by cold indifference.

2. When you resolve to study the doctrine, do not approach it with prejudice through misapprehension.

3. Do not refuse the voice of the Lord Jesus by rejecting the principle of expiation.

4. Do not refuse this voice of mercy by preferring your own way of salvation. (C. H. Spurgeon.)


Verses 18-29

Verses 25-29

Hebrews 12:25-29

Refuse not Him that speaketh

The voice of God in the vicissitudes of humanity

I.
THE VOICE OF GOD IS VARIOUSLY UTTERED IN DIFFERENT AGES OF THE WORLD. God speaks to rational beings on earth in two general ways

1. Natural. Everything around and within us is a book; all these are materials of knowledge--the soul alone is the reader, the student, the philosopher, the interpreter; a world is spread out by God, impressed with principles and laws for man, that he may look through them to Him.

2. Supernatural.

II. THE VOICE OF GOD PRODUCES GREAT CHANGES IN THE INSTITUTIONS OF MEN. There are two classes of things, and but two--things that may be shaken, and things that may not be shaken. There is one Being who exists by necessity--the absolute, immutable God. The nearer things are to God, the more fixed they are; the farther from God, the more changeable.

III. THE SHAKING OF THINGS MUTABLE IS DESIGNED TO LEAD MEN TO THE IMMUTABLE. The immutable things of Judaism are preserved in Christianity; its God, spirit of worship, law--these are retained.

IV. GOD, BY ALL THESE THINGS, BRINGS MEN TO THE TRUE WORSHIP OF HIMSELF. (Caleb Morris.)

The doctrine of Christ not to be refused

I. To REFUSE HIM THAT SPEAKETH, WHICH MEANS CONTEMPT OF GOD, WHO OUT OF GREATEST MERCY HAD RENDERED SALVATION UPON FAIREST TERMS.

II. THE REASON IS TAKEN FROM THE HEINOUSNESS OF THE SIN, AND THE GRIEVOUSNESS OF THE PUNISHMENT, BOTH WHICH ARE SET FORTH BY A COMPARISON IN QUANTITY. Let us apply this unto ourselves, and consider

1. Who speaks unto us.

2. What He speaks.

3. From whence He speaks.

Hear! hear!

I. THERE IS NEED OF THIS EXHORTATION FROM MANY CONSIDERATIONS.

1. The excellence of the word. It claims obedient attention.

2. The readiness of Satan to prevent our receiving the Divine word.

3. Our own indisposition to receive the holy, heavenly message.

4. We have rejected too long already. It is to be feared that we may continue to do so; but our right course is to hearken at once.

5. The word comes in love to our souls; let us therefore heed it, and render love for love.

II. THERE ARE MANY WAYS OF REFUSING HIM THAT SPEAKETH.

1. Not hearing. Absence from public worship, neglect of Biblereading. “Turn away from Him.”

2. Hearing listlessly, as if half asleep, and unconcerned. 3 Refusing to believe. Intellectually believing, but not with the heart.

4. Raising quibbles. Hunting up difficulties, favouring unbelief.

5. Being offended. Angry with the gospel, indignant at plain speech, opposing honest personal rebuke.

6. Perverting His words. Twisting and wresting Scripture.

7. Bidding Him depart. Steeling the conscience, trifling with conviction, resorting to frivolous company for relief.

8. Reviling Him. Denying His deity, hating His gospel, and His holy way.

9. Persecuting Him. Turning upon His people as a whole, or assailing them as individuals.

III. THERE ARE MANY CAUSES OF THIS REFUSING.

1. Stolid indifference, which causes a contempt of all good things.

2. Self-righteousness, which makes self an idol, and therefore rejects the living Saviour.

3. Self-reliant wisdom, which is too proud to hear the voice of God.

4. Hatred of holiness, which prefers the wilful to the obedient, the lustful to the pure, the selfish to the Divine.

5. Fear of the world, which listens to threats, or bribes, or flatteries, and dares not act aright.

6. Procrastination, which cries “to-morrow,” but means “never.”

7. Despair and unbelief, which declare the gospel to be powerless to save, and unavailable as a consolation.

IV. REFUSING TO HEAR CHRIST, THE HIGHEST AUTHORITY IS DESPISED. “Him that speaketh from heaven.”

1. He is of heavenly nature, and reveals to us what He has known of God and heaven.

2. He came from heaven, armed with heavenly authority.

3. tie speaks from heaven at this moment by His eternal Spirit in Holy Scripture, the ordinances and the preaching of the gospel.

4. He will speak from heaven at the judgment. He is Himself God, and therefore all that He saith hath divinity within it.

V. THE DOOM TO BE FEARED IF WE REFUSE CHRIST. Those to whom Moses spake on earth, who refused him, escaped not.

1. Let us think of their doom, and learn that equally sure destruction will happen to all who refuse Christ. Pharaoh and the Egyptians. The murmurers dying in the wilderness. Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.

2. Let us see how some have perished in the Church. Judas, Ananias, and Sapphira, &c.

3. Let us see how others perish who remain in the world, arid refuse to quit it for the fold of Christ. They shall not escape by annihilation, nor by purgatory, nor by universal restitutions. They shall not escape by infidelity, hardness of heart, cunning or hypocrisy. They have refused the only way of escape, and therefore they must perish for ever. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The plea of the gospel:

To “refuse” is a positive rejection of the word. But to “turn away” may be only neglect and disregard. To treat the message carelessly is to “ turn away” from the speaker. And as the ancient people were condemned for refusing, so may we be far more terribly overwhelmed in destruction if we turn away from Christ. Christ in His preached Word, Christ in His perpetuated Church, Christ in the continued ordinances of His dispensation, is for ever speaking unto men. If you scorn, then, the feeblest presentation of the gospel, it is not the preacher that you despise, but the Lord Jesus Christ who speaks through the preacher.

I. THE MANIFESTATION OF TRUTH IN THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST HAS RECEIVED THE HIGHEST SANCTION WHICH CAN BE AFFORDED FOR OBEDIENCE AND FAITH. Do you ask for dignity in the person who claims your allegiance and evokes your faith? Where shall you find a higher worth and glory of personal nature and character than were in Jesus Christ our Lord? Are you impressible by power, and will you allow your conscience and heart to follow, where first your senses and imagination have been aroused? What more Divine glory and power shall you anywhere find than in Him, who stills a tempest with a word, who calls the dead back to life, and is the master of the unseen world, whom the very demons hear and swiftly and abjectly obey? Perhaps you ask for wisdom and the light of an intelligence that shines with the lustre of the mind of God. Go and listen to Him who taught upon the mountains, or compelled the wondering multitudes to a reverent attention, as He unfolded the mysteries of the kingdom in the parables that linked the simplest facts and events of earthly life to the sublimest truths of the Divine nature and government. Does moral heroism arouse you? Will the signs of the spiritual and the Divine, found in the conflicts of a true and tried life, stir your heart and compel your admiration? Where in the world hath ever shone a light so signalised by truth and bravery, by virtue, and perfection, as the life of Jesus Christ? Perhaps you will yield to the claims of holiness and justice. Like the ancient statue which broke the awful silence in a deep sweet note of music, when the morning sunlight first fell upon it, your nature answers with an echo of fine melody, to the revelation of law, and to the outshining of the claim of God. Behold, how it breaks in clearest light, from the life and sacrifice of Jesus Christ! Or perchance to all these forces you only turn a hard, insensate nature. But surely you can melt beneath the influence of love. The traveller drew his cloak the tighter when the blustering north wind blew, but he cast off his covering when the sunshine came out. Wilt thou not, then, throw from thee thy coverings of self-righteousness, and rebellion, when the grace and pity of thy God stream upon thee from the offered sacrifice of the dying Lamb?

II. THE NEGLECT OF THIS MESSAGE OF GRACE IS THE DEEPEST SIN WHICH CAN RENDER A MAN OBNOXIOUS TO THE JUST PUNISHMENT OF GOD. TO wrong a stranger of his stranger’s right, to rob even an enemy of what justly belongs to him--these are crimes which human law of the imperfect sort punishes. But what is the deeply dyed shame of love outraged? What of the wickedness which tears the hand that is extended to help? These are enormities at which human nature stands aghast. And this is the sin which you commit, when you “refuse Him that speaketh from heaven.”

III. ESCAPE FROM THE RESULT OF THIS UNBELIEF IS ABSOLUTELY IMPOSSIBLE. A company of shipwrecked sailors are on yonder raft. They drift helplessly upon the wide ocean. They are thousands of miles from land. That frail bundle of spars can never bring them to the shore. Storms may arise, and if the winds blow, and the waters beat in mountainous surges upon them, they must perish. But see, a vessel comes in sight. It is an ocean steamer. It bears down to them. It comes alongside, and offers to take them on board. Thereupon, they begin to speculate whether they may not still be saved, even if they refuse to accept the offer of succour, and remain upon the raft. Who would not pronounce them mad to the last degree of madness, if they hesitate to climb on board? The question would not even suggest itself. While we speak, every man of them has left the broken spars, and is safe on the deck of the ship. What then of you, of any of us, who wonder whether there may not be yet a chance, even if the salvation of Christ is not made your own? The voice from heaven is speaking. To reject it, is the deepest guilt. What hope can there be if this be not accepted? (L. D. Bevan, D. D.)

Refusing God:

1. Doubt of His truth, dissatisfaction with His Word, is perhaps one of the most prominent features of such refusal. When a person begins to say, “This in the Bible is, perhaps, an hyperbolical and figurative phrase; it needs to be palliated in order that we may reach its truth; it needs to be subtracted from in order that we may attain the exact meaning of the Spirit of God”; he shows his tendency to depart from the living God.

2. A second evidence is, disagreement with God. How can two walk together except they be agreed? If two persons are in partnership, they can agree so long as they work together; but if one feels one course to be right and follows it, and the other, another, the two are at issue, and the one departs from the other. Departure begins at the smallest possible point of refusal. When a line starts from another, when a tangent starts from a circle, or one line diverges from another with which it ran parallel, it may be minutely, almost imperceptibly at the commencement, but, however, it will issue in an opposite and contrary direction. So your divergence from God may begin about a small matter; a very little which God demands but which you refuse; a little matter which you think ought to be in your way, but which God has said shall be in the opposite way; but that divergence which begins on that little fact in that little Bible may issue in results disastrous as imagination cannot conceive, and terrible as are pourtrayed in the condition of the lost by the Holy Spirit of God.

3. Another element is, dissatisfaction with what God is and what God does. God rules in providence. Some great blow falls upon your home, some disastrous loss occurs in your circumstances; you have light enough to see that God is in this, and grace enough to feel that it is God’s hand that strikes the blow, and you murmur against God; you object to religion; you are dissatisfied with Him who is its author, and you begin a course of departure from the living God. The tenant leaves the house with which he is dissatisfied; the friend leaves the friend’s company with whom he is offended; and you, dissatisfied with the providential government of God, believing that He has punished when He ought to have rewarded, arrested when He ought to have given impulse, retire from Him, forget His Word, forsake His sanctuary, and refuse Him. And such a course, I again remind you, may begin from very little indeed, but it must issue in terrible results. A person departing from God walks in the company of the ungodly. He stands in the way of sinners. Then, he sits in the seat of the scornful. Here you have, then, the course of one who refuses God. What are some of the signs or evidences that a Christian can take cognisance of?

4. Another evidence is excessive love of the world. “Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world.” I have submitted these as simple tests or criteria by which to ascertain either our growing acceptance of God, or refusing Him. It is a serious question, Am I a child of God? Is my heart set on heavenly things? (J. Cumming, D. D.)

Refusing God’s voice:

I. THE SOLEMN POSSIBILITY OF REFUSAL. NOW, to gain the whole solemnity of this exhortation, it is very needful to remember that it is addressed to professing Christians, who have in so far exercised real faith as that, by it, they “ are come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God.” Then, again, it is to be noted that the refusal here spoken about, and against which we professing Christians are thus solemnly warned, is not necessarily entire intellectual rejection of the gospel and its message. For the Israelites, who made the original “ refusal,” to which that which we are warned against is paralleled, recognised the voice that they would not listen to as being God’s voice; and just because it was His voice wanted to hear no more of it. Then, remember, too, that this refusal, which at bottom is the rising up of the creature’s will, tastes, inclinations, desires against the manifest and recognised will of God, may, and as a matter of fact often does, go along with a great deal of lip reverence and unconsciously hypocritical worship. The unconscious refusal is the formidable and fatal one. Will God’s voice be heard in a heart that is all echoing with earthly wishes, loudly claimant for their gratification, with sensual desires passionately demanding their food to be flung to them? Will God’s voice be heard in a heart where the janglings of contending wishes and earthly inclinations are perpetually loud in their brawling? Will it be heard in a heart which has turned itself into a sounding-board for all the noises of the world and the voices of men? The voice of God is heard in silence, and not amidst the noises of our own hearts. And they who, unconsciously perhaps, of what they are doing, open their ears wide to hear what they themselves, in the lower parts of their souls, prescribe, or bow themselves in obedience to the precepts and maxims of men round them, are really refusing to hear the voice of God.

II. THE SLEEPLESS VIGILANCE NECESSARY TO COUNTERACT THE TENDENCY TO RERUSAL. “See that ye refuse not.” A warning finger is, as it were, lifted. Take heed against the tendencies that lie in yourself and the temptations around you. The consciousness of the possibility of the danger is half the battle. If there is any need to dwell upon specific methods by which this vigilance and continual self-distrust may work out for us our seem try, one would say--by careful trying to reverse all these conditions which lead us surely to the refusal. Silencethe passions, the wishes, the voices of your own wills and tastes and inclinations and purposes. Bring them all into close touch with Him. Let there be no voice in your hearts till you know God’s will; and then with a leap let your hearts be eager to do it. Keep yourselves out of the babble of the world’s voices; and be accustomed to go by yourselves and let God speak. Do promptly, precisely, perfectly, all that you know He has said. That is the way to sharpen your ears for the more delicate intonations of His voice, and the closer manifestations of His will.

III. THE SOLEMN MOTIVES BY WHICH THIS SLEEPLESS VIGILANCE IS ENFORCED. “If they escaped not who refused Him that spake on earth”--or, perhaps, “who on earth refused Him that spake”--“much more shall not we escape if we turn away from Him that speaketh from heaven.” The clearness of the voice is the measure of the penalty of non-attention to it. The voice that spoke on earth had earthly penalties as the consequence of disobedience. The voice that speaks from heaven, by reason of its loftier majesty, and of the clearer utterances which are granted to us thereby, necessarily involves more severe and fatal issues from negligence to it. Mark how the words deepen and darken in their significance in the latter portion. The man that stops his ears will very soon turn his back and be in flight, so far as he can, from the voice. Do not tamper with God’s utterances. If you do, you have begun a course that ends in alienation from Him. Then mark, again, the evils which fell upon these people who turned away from Him that speaketh on earth where their long wandering in the wilderness, and their exclusion from the Land of Promise, and final deaths in the desert, where their bleaching bones lay white in the sunshine. And if you and I, by continuous and increasing deafness to our Father’s voice, have turned away from Him, then all that assemblage of flashing glories and majestic persons, and of reconciling blood to which we come by faith, will melt away, “and leave not a wrack behind.” We shall be like men who in a dream have thought themselves in a king’s palace, surrounded by beauty and treasures, and have awakened with a start and a shiver to find themselves alone in the desert. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Unheeded warnings:

As he (Caesar) crossed the hall his statue fell, and shivered on the stones. Some servants, perhaps, had heard whispers, and wished to warn him. As he still passed on a stranger thrust a scroll into his hand, and begged him to read it on the spot. It contained a list of the conspirators, with a clever account of the plot. He supposed it to be a petition, and placed it carelessly among his other papers. The fate of the empire hung upon a thread, but the thread was not broken. (A. S. Froude.)

Fear due to authority:

Julius Caesar once said to one who appeared to treat his words with indifference: “Know, young man, he who says these things is able to do them.” (J. F. B. Tinling, B. A.)

The word has not done with us:

We seem to have done with the word as it has passed through our ears; but the word, be it remembered, will never have done with us, till it has judged us at the last day. (Judge Hale.)

“Where are his ears?”

A nobleman, skilled in music, who had often observed the Hon. and Rev. Mr. Cadogan’s inattention to his performance, said to him one day, “Come, I am determined to make you feel the force of music; pay particular attention to this piece.” It was accordingly played. “Well, what do you say now?” “Why, just what I said before.” “What! can you hear this and not be charmed? Well, I am quite surprised at your insensibility. Where are your ears? … Bear with me, my lord,” replied Mr. Cadogan, “since I, too, have had my surprise. I have often, from the pulpit, set before you the most striking and affecting truths; I have sounded notes that might have raised the dead; I have said, ‘Surely he will feel now,’ but you never seemed to be charmed with my music, though infinitely more interesting than yours. I, too, have been ready to say, with astonishment, ‘Where are his ears?’”

Yet once more

Yet once more:

The expression implies an approaching change. Whenever we speak of doing a thing once more, of visiting a place once more, of seeing a person once more, we imply that there is about to be, after that one act, a cessation, removal, separation, the thought of which is already casting its shadow over it and us. It is an old remark, but none the less true, that even things which we have little prized may awaken in the mind a tender feeling when they are viewed as for the last time, as what we shall never see or never do again. A man may become so habituated to a desert island or to a prisoncell, as to shed tears in quitting the one for his country or the other for freedom. And certainly the dullest home, the most monotonous occupation, the most uncongenial and unattractive circle, may easily be invested with an interest not its own, an interest which never belonged to it while it was regarded as permanent, the moment we feel that our hold upon it is shaken, that we are going forth from it to another abode, or in quest of another abode, which is as yet to us but an unrealised idea. Whenever we use the term “ once more,” in the sense here intended, let us remember, that it signifies “ the removing of the things that are shaken,” of things that are capable and in the process of shaking, “as of things that are made.” When God Himself said, in the passage quoted, “Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven,” if was implied that the convulsion of nature, as it was the last, so also was the prelude to an actual removal and displacement of the framework of nature itself, in preparation for the introduction of that which should be absolutely indestructible. Every change, from the very greatest of all to the very least, from that which convulses empires to that which agitates a little world like ours, is the removing of something made, of some thing or some person that is temporal and transitory, with a view to the greater prominence, perhaps the restoration to notice, of things or of persons immutable and eternal. What, then, are some of these things which cannot be shaken?

1. I might bid you to think of this school which we all so much love, and to remember that through centuries of changes and fluctuations it has already stood its ground, and that it is now one of those institutions of our country which possess in themselves, by God’s blessing, an element of vitality and of permanence.

2. I will bid you, in the second place, to contrast with those human agencies which are necessarily so transitory in a place like this, and even with the institution itself in which they are carried on, those individual results of our work which we express by the comprehensive term of a human character; that mind, that heart, those habits, that life, which are the ultimate result, in each particular case, of education considered as a complete whole.

3. To speak of the formation of character, just and true though the words be, has a somewhat chilling sound. But when we go on to the verse following the text, and read there of “ a kingdom which cannot be moved,” and hear of our receiving it, and find ourselves charged to “have grace whereby we may serve God acceptably,” as though that also were by His gift in our own power; when we are thus brought, as it were, into His living presence, and made to view all things as coming to us from Him, and being ours already in Him; then whose heart does not burn within him; who does not then feel that there is, in deed and in truth, a rock higher than lie on which his feet may, if he will, be securely set, and that, if only we can reach that place of safety, no change can ever come amiss to us, no change can ever touch us, us ourselves, though it may make strange havoc of every earthly shelter which we had provided for ourselves or for a time rested under and trusted in? (Dealt Vaughan.)

I shake not the earth only, but also heaven

The gospel as a power:

I. As A REVOLUTIONARY POWER. Falsehood, evil, corruption--these, wherever they exist, in hearts, governments, commerce, literature, science, or art--Christianity has shaken and will shake.

II. As A REIGNING POWER. It is a “kingdom.”

1. He that does not receive it as a reigning power, does not receive it at all.

2. He that does not receive it as a reigning power, is exposed to the fate of a rebel against heaven.

III. As A PERMANENT POWER. “A kingdom which cannot be moved.”

1. Its elements are immutable. Love and truth.

2. Its fitness is eternal. Man through all the ages will never outgrow it, never cease to want it, never be able to get on without it.

IV. As A PRACTICAL POWER.

1. The mode of acceptable service. “Reverence and godly fear.”

2. The qualification for acceptable service. “Let us have graces,” i.e., thankfully realise the high blessings conferred on us, and with devout gratitude engage in the work.

3. The motive of acceptable service. “Our God is a consuming fire” Deuteronomy 4:24). The God who rolled thunder and flashed light-nings on Sinai has not changed, His antagonism to sin is as great as ever. (Homilist.)

The shaking and the kingdom

I. There are two shakings here referred to by the apostle; the first is that of Sinai, which is already past, the second is that at the Lord’s coming, which is still future. Of this STILL FUTURE SHAKING he affirms three things.

1. It is a final shaking. It is but “once more,” and then all creation is at rest for ever. It is but “once more” that the stormy vengeance of Jehovah is to be let loose upon the earth to work havoc there. That last tempest is even now drawing together its clouds of darkness from every region, and mustering its strength for the terrible outburst--an outburst terrible indeed, but yet the last!

2. It is a more extensive shaking than any heretofore. “I shake not the earth only but also heaven.” The heaven here spoken of is not the “third heaven,” which is the peculiar dwelling place of God and the shrine of His glory; but the visible heavens above us--the same as those of which we read, “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” This universal shaking is that which Jesus Himself predicted (Matthew 24:29). It is also that of which the prophet Isaiah (chap. 24.), has given at length so dark a picture. Very fearful will these convulsions be. Above, beneath, around; earth, air, and sea shall be all one dark, wide circle of infinite desolation and terror. Careless sinner! What shall then become of thee?

3. It is a shaking followed by a glorious issue. It is not for the annihilation of this material fabric, nor is it for reducing all things to their primitive chaos. It is for a very different end. That end is twofold. There is first “the removing of those things which are shaken as of things which are made,” that is, things of perishable workmanship. Then there is the consolidating of what resists and survives this shaking into an immovable creation. The foreground is dark, but the scene beyond it is all glad and bright. The commotions in immediate prospect of which we are already beginning to descry the forerunners, are apt to depress and sadden; but all beyond that is so stable, so unchanging, and spreads itself out before us in such refulgent, holy beauty, that we can overleap the dreary interval and stay our hearts as well as refresh our eyes with the glory to be revealed when the skirts of the last cloud shall be seen passing off in the distance, and the echo of the last thunder heard remotely upon the joyful hills.

II. The apostle having thus foretold the convulsions of the last days, and alluded to the “times of the restitution of all things,” proceeds to show THE EFFECT WHICH THESE THINGS SHOULD HAVE UPON BELIEVERS, and in what a solemn attitude it places them. This is the object of what follows, which, from the use of the word “wherefore,” is obviously an inference from his preceding statements.

1. The kingdom. It is “a kingdom which cannot be moved.” All present things are to be shaken, and out of these is to come the kingdom that cannot be moved--a kingdom unchangeable and eternal. Sin, we know, has loosened everything, transforming a stable world into a decaying, crumbling ruin. In order that stability may be restored, all things must be shaken, and after these shakings comes this immovable kingdom. There is no kingdom like this among all that has ever been. Everything about it is incorruptible, as well as undefiled. Its territory, its subjects, its laws, its throne, its sceptre, its sovereign, are all everlasting! Nothing can shake it. No war, no enemy, can disturb its peace. No storm, no earthquake, can assail it. No internal weakness or decay can dismember or dissolve it. The day of its duration shall be the eternal Sabbath--the rest that remaineth for the people of God.

2. The kings. Who are they? “We,” says the apostle--that is, not “we apostles,” but “we saints.” As believers, we have received a kingdom, being made kings and priests unto God; being made “ heirs of God, joint-heirs with Jesus Christ.” Angels are but “ ministering spirits”: we are kings--partakers with Christ Himself of His crown and throne! Behold whatmanner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us! What a holy life should then be ours! Surely we may be expected to keep in mind our coming glory, and to walk worthy of such a calling, and of such a kingdom!

3. Our present position and employment. “Let us serve God.” Our whole life is to be one of service: not merely certain portions of our life, but our entire life from the moment that we believe. It is the life of men redeemed to God, and who have therefore become His property. Each saint is a priest unto God as well as a king. And as Jehovah’s priesthood, we serve in the true sanctuary which the Lord pitched and not man. Ours is a consecrated life, and therefore a continual service, the service of priests. We are sprinkled with blood set apart for God, and our whole life is to be one of priestly service. With our holy garments upon us, our censers in our hands, and standing under the shadow of the glory, how can we give way to levity, or wickedness, or indolence in circumstances so unutterably solemn and overawing. Oh! what manner of persons ought we to be in all holy conversation and godliness!

4. In what manner is this service to be performed?

5. How are we to maintain this service? By holding fast grace, says the apostle. When that free love of God entered our souls, it brought with it liberty and gladness and light. It dispelled all our darkness, it removed all our sorrow, it struck off every fetter, and blessed us with the liberty of

God’s beloved Son. And it is in this same love that we are to abide to the end. We are to beware of losing sight of it, or letting it go.

6. Our God is a consuming fire. This evidently comes in as an additional reason to the preceding. And a most weighty and solemn one it is. The fire, indeed, has not consumed us, but still it is consuming. The God with whom we have to do is a God who has saved us, yet still this very God whom we call ours is a consuming fire. Should we not, then, serve Him with reverence and godly fear? (H. Bonar.)

The shaking of Sinai and Calvary:

That voice of Sinai was a shaking of earthly things. How were nations dispossessed, how were thrones tumbled into the dust, how was the course of human history and human life changed or directed by that shaking of Sinai! And so with the shaking voice of Calvary! Earthly things were moved, and are still moved, by the power of that voice Divine. Not a home to-day in all our land, not a single relationship in life, no duty of the ruler, no obligation of the subject or the citizen, but is bent and swayed and governed from Golgotha’s hill. But heavenly things are shaken by the voice which cried on Calvary. Some have understood, by the term “heaven” as here used, those high states of human faith and worship, not only in the Jewish economy but in the idolatries of the world, which were as “heaven” to the men who received them; and these, the “It is finished” of our Lord has utterly overthrown. Is it a mere play of imagination, if we suppose that the voice which shook the heavens, was indeed heard by the inhabitants of that celestial world, and arrested the very worship of the skies, and startled angels from their lofty stations, to look with absorbed gaze upon the wonders of that sacrifice? Furthermore, may we not reverently suggest that the voice of victory on the completion of redeeming work, wrought even upon the heart of the Infinite One Himself? At least, the issue was a Divine acceptance, the change of threatening judgment into saving mercy. There was shaking at Sinai--shaking of old temporal and earthly relations, of old human and profane habits, and in their place the appointment of things seen in the heavenly, commanded by God, “made” indeed by men, but made “after the fashion given on the Mount.” But now, the voice from heaven hath shaken both earth and heaven. Once again, and far more surely and destructively, are the earthly things shaken, and there topple down all secularities and temporalities and mere passing phenomena of human thought and law of man’s mere worldly duty and faith. But with these also pass the heavenly things that Sinai established. The rules of life, the precepts of morality, the very commandments received as mere external ordinances, the gorgeous ritual of priest and sacrifice of temples, offering of chant and incense, of blood and altar--all these “things made” are shaken, and being shaken, show their passing temporal character as they quickly vanish and disappear. But what remains to us? what are the things that not even the voice from heaven can shake, that not even does the voice desire to shake, but only to establish?

1. Law remains, grand, inviolable, Divine. A law may have vanished, the law may have grown effete and dead, but law is now personal and incarnate, and dwells for ever serene, benign, almighty in the Son of Man, who is raised into the glory of the Godhead, and who sways, with the power of the Father, alike the hosts of heaven and the inhabiters of the earth.

2. Love remains. Love is the form that dwells in heaven, love is dominion and the rule of God in Jesus Christ His Son.

3. And law and love combine, and in their union salvation remains. All the preparations and the promises, all the weary wanderings of human life, God-led or man-directed, all the times and dispensations, all the aims and hopes and despairs and sins of men, these have all ended now, and there is naught but salvation free and full and certain and eternal, for all who will believe--salvation for the worst--salvation that cannot fail, for it stands assured upon the foundation of the sovereign God, the suffering Son, the ever-gracious Spirit. And so abides for ever the kingdom of our God. Human weakness shall not sap its strength, and Satan’s malice and the wildest assault of hell shall never overthrow its glory. (L. D. Bevan, D. D.)

The shakings of Jehovah

These Hebrew Christians were living in the midst of a great shaking. It was a time of almost universal trial. God was shaking not earth only, but also heaven. The Jewish tenure of Palestine was being shaken by the Romans, who claimed it as their conquest. The interpretation given to the Word of God by the Rabbis was being shaken by the fresh light introduced through the words and life and death of Jesus. The supremacy of the temple and its ritual was being shaken by those who taught that the true temple was the Christian Church, and that all the Levitical sacrifices had been realised in Christ. The observance of the Sabbath was being shaken by those who wished to substitute for it the first day of the week. In such a time we are living now. Everything is being shaken and tested. But there is a Divine purpose in it all, that His eternal truth may stand out more clearly, when all human traditions have fallen away, unable to resist the energy of the shock.

I. THEOLOGICAL SYSTEMS ARE BEING SHAKEN. There was a time when men received their theological beliefs from their teachers, their parents, or their Church, without a word of question or controversy. It is not so now; the air is filled with questionings. Men are putting into the crucible every doctrine which our forefathers held dear. In these terrible shakings, not one jot or tittle of God’s Word shall perish, not one grain of truth shall fall to the ground, not one stone in the fortress shall be dislodged. But they are permitted to come, partly to test the chaff and wheat as a winnowing fan, but chiefly that all which is transient may pass away, whilst the simple truth of God becomes more apparent, and shines forth unhidden by the scaffolding and rubbish with which the builders have obscured its symmetry and beauty. “The things which cannot be shaken shall remain.”

II. ECCLESIASTICAL SYSTEMS ARE BEING SHAKEN. Teachers of religion are challenged to show reason for their assuming their office, or of claiming special prerogatives. Methods of work are being weighed in the balances, missionary plans trenchantly criticised, religious services metamorphosed. Change is threatening the most time-honoured customs, and all this is very distressing to those who have confused the essence with the form, the jewel with the casket, the spirit with the temple in which it dwells. But let us not fear. All this is being permitted for the wisest ends. There is a great deal of wood, hay, and stubble in all our structures which needs to be burnt up, but not an ounce of gold or silver will ever be destroyed.

III. OUR CHARACTERS AND LIVES ARE CONSTANTLY BEING SHAKEN. What a shake that sermon gave us, which showed that all our righteousness, on which we counted so fondly, were but withered leaves! What a shake was that commercial disaster, which swept away in one blow the savings and credit of years, that were engrossing the heart, and left us only what we had of spiritual worth! What a shake was that temptation, which showed that our fancied sinlessness was an empty dream, and that we were as sensitive to temptation as those over whom we had been vaunting ourselves. What has been the net result of all these shakings? Has a hair of our heads perished? The old man has perished, but the inward man has been daily renewed. The more the marble has wasted, the more the statue has grown. As the wooden centres have been knocked down, the solid masonry has stood out with growing completeness. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)

A lesson from the great panic

It is a most popular error that the world stands still, and is fixed and immovable. This has been scouted as an astronomical theory, but as a matter of practical principle it still reigns in men’s minds. Galileo said, “No, the world is not a fixed body, it moves”; Peter had long before declared that all these things should be dissolved; at last men believed the astronomer, but they still doubt the apostle, or at least forget his doctrine. “This is the substance,” cries the miser, as he clutches his bags of gold; “heaven and hell are myths to me.” “This is the main chance,” whispers the merchant, as he pushes vigorously his commercial speculations; “as for spiritual things they are for mere dreamers and sentimentalists. Cash is the true treasure.” Ah, you base your statements upon a foundation of falsehood. This world is as certainly a mere revolving ball as to human life as it is astronomically; and hopes founded thereon will as surely come to nought as will card houses in a storm. Here we have no abiding city, and it is in vain to attempt to build one. Every now and then, in order to enforce this distasteful truth upon us, the God of providence gives the world, in some way or other, a warning shake. The Lord has only to lay one finger upon the world, and mountains are carried into the midst of the sea, while the waters of the ocean roar and are troubled until the mountains shake with the swelling thereof.

I. The original draft of the statement refers to THE OLD JEWISH DISPENSATION. Why was it that it could be shaken?

1. One reason was that it had so much to do with materialism. It needed an altar of earth or stone, and such altars the hand of the spoiler can overturn; it required a bullock that hath horns and hoofs, and such sacrifices the plague may slay; it demanded a priest of the house of Aaron, and a race of men may be cut off from the families of the nations; it needed a tabernacle or a temple, and buildings made with hands are readily demolished; hence it could be shaken. These were but things which are made, and they have been shaken and removed; but the things which cannot be shaken still remain; our spiritual altar still endures, our great High Priest still lives, our house not made with hands is still eternal in the heavens.

2. The Jewish religion could be shaken because it could be combated by material forces. Antiochus could profane its altars, Titus could burn its temple, and cast down the walls of the sacred city; but no invader can pollute the heavenly altar of our spiritual faith by brute force, or destroy the celestial bulwarks of our hope by fire and sword. Material forces are not available in our warfare, for we wrestle not with flesh and blood. The tyrant may burn our martyrs and cast our confessors into prison, but the pure truth of Jesus is neither consumed by fire nor bound with chains; it hath within itself essential immortality and liberty.

3. Moreover, the Mosaic economy passed away because it could be affected by time. But see the doctrine of the Cross of Christ! No time affects it. The message of salvation by grace is as fresh to-day as when Peter preached it at Pentecost. The great command, “Believe and live,” has as much life-giving power about it as when it was first applied by the Holy Ghost.

II. ALL THAT IS TRUE IN OUR PROFESSED CREEDS AND STANDARDS WILL STAND WHEN MERE OPINIONS ARE SHAKEN.

III. THE REAL IN OUTWARD PROFESSION STANDS, NOTWITHSTANDING TIMES OF SHAKING. I do not think times of storm to a Church are in the long run to be regretted; a calm is much more dangerous. The plague bearing miasma settles and festers in the vale till the atmosphere becomes deadly, even to the casual passenger; but the storm fiend, as men call him, leaps from the mountains into the sunny glades of the valley; with terrific vigour hurls down the habitations of men, and tears up the trees by the roots; but meanwhile all is superabundantly compensated by the effectual purging which the atmosphere receives. Men breathe more freely, and heaven smiles more serenely now that the heaviness of the death-damp is gone, and the poisonous vapour clings no longer to the river’s bank and the valley’s side.

IV. We will further apply the principle to our OWN PERSONAL EXPERIENCE. LET me mention a few methods of soul-shaking.

1. Affliction is one of them. The man thought that he had resigned everything to God--death came and took away his child; where was his resignation then? Tribulations, losses, crosses, sicknesses, and bereavements, are very stern trials, and the things within us which may be shaken will be shaken by them; but if we can bear them well and trustingly, and yet praise God for all, we have evidence of possessing gracious qualities which cannot be shaken, and therefore will remain.

2. What a shake temptation gives us! Why, we shall then know whether our grace is the grace of God or the grace of man; we shall now see whether we have the faith of God’s elect or not. The faith of God’s elect can write “Invicta” upon its escutcheon; it is unconquered and unconquerable. There is a time of shaking coming which none of us shall be able to avoid.

3. If we should live without affliction and without temptation, which I think will be impossible, yet we cannot enter into the promised land without passing through the river of death, unless the Lord shall come. What a testing-time will the death-hour be!

V. I must now bring before you ALL THAT YOU HAVE IN POSSESSION. The things which can be shaken will be removed, but things that cannot be shaken will remain. We have many things in our possession at the present moment which can be shaken, and it ill-becomes a Christian man to set much store by them. Yet some of us have certain “ things which cannot be shaken,” and I invite you to read over the catalogue of them, that if the things which can be shaken should all be taken away, you may derive real comfort from the things that cannot be shaken, which will remain.

1. In the first place, whatever your losses may have been, you enjoy present salvation.

2. In the next place, you are a child of God to-day. God is your Father. No change of circumstances can ever rob yon of that.

3. You have another permanent blessing, namely, the love of Jesus Christ. HE who is God and anon loves you with all the strength of His affectionate nature. Now, nothing can rob you of that.

4. You have another thing, namely this truth, that whatever may happen to you you have God’s faithful promise which holds true that all things shall work for your good. Do you believe this? (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Things passing and things permanent:

The giving of the law shook the earth, the giving of the gospel is to shake earth and heaven. The concussion begins when Christ comes; it is going on now; and it will continue till the world receives its last shock and falls asunder. This is not a very common view of the gospel history, but it has its side of truth. The gospel cannot build up and make strong without shaking down. The things that are shaken are “things that are made.” They are created things, and therefore they can be and must be changed. But the things that are not made cannot be shaken. They are things that belong to God’s own nature, His truth and righteousness and love, which are unassailable and eternal, and give eternal power and life wherever they enter and become part of a creature. It is a very great thing for us to feel assured of this in the midst of the perpetual breaking down of everything around us.

I. IN ILLUSTRATING THE LAW, WE, MAY BEGIN WITH THE MORE GENERAL AND COME TO THE PERSONAL.

1. The Jewish dispensation was shaken, but the great realities enclosed in it remain. The New Testament Church emerges like a spirit clothed in a new and ethereal body fitted for a greater time.

2. The forms of human society are shaken, but the principles that regulate if remain. Every chaos has its harmonising voice, “Let there be light”; every flood its ark and its rainbow. Amid the tumults of nations and the guessing plans of politicians, a Christian man need never lose hope, for he has his foot on a kingdom that cannot be moved; and the communities of this world are being shaken and broken that they may be built up again, with more in them of that kingdom which is truth and righteousness, and which at last shall be peace.

3. Outward systems of religion are shaken, but the great truths of the Church of Christ remain. By outward systems of religion we mean the organisations that men form, with a particular human name and locality and administration; by the Church of Christ we mean the spiritual children of God, called together by His grace out of every country, and built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ being the chief corner-stone. The great wants of man’s soul cannot be changed any more than the necessities of his physical nature, and the great truths of the Bible that satisfy them can no more be shaken than the ordinances of heaven that furnish man with bread and light and life.

4. The temporal circumstances of man are shaken, but the great possessions of the soul remain. There are few who pass through life without experiencing many changes in it. All our possessions are in things of earth, and we hold them by a clay-tenure. Perhaps the saddest change of all is that which takes place in our feelings. How different the dreams of the opening of life from the realisations of its close! What broken hopes, what frustrated aims, what a poor handful of ears for the rich sheaves we saw before us! So God shakes our lives till all seems gone, things of possession and things of promise. And yet, the while, the soul may have within its grasp things that cannot be touched, that youthful expectations once thought little of, but that now grow into bright and great realities. It may have faith rising to God and laying hold of the treasure that nothing can endanger or diminish. It may have hope going down like an anchor and keeping the heart stable in every storm. It may have love within and around, dwelling on the things of God and giving, in communion with Him, a peace in trouble that is above all earthly good. If these have become part of the soul they may be clouded, but they are never lost. When we lose hold of them Christ holds them fast for us, and brings them out like stars over drifting sky-rack, and brightens them as night deepens.

5. The material frame of man is shaken, but the immortal spirit remains. Where the Divine life enters, it brings with it not only the promise but the pledge and foretaste of the immortal life. The light of faith already spoken of, shining when all else that looks out at the windows is darkened, is one of its foretokens. Augustine said of his mother, Monies, that the crevices of the falling tabernacle only let the celestial light shine in more clearly.

“The soul’s dark cottage shattered and decayed

Lets in new light through chinks that time has made.”

And when death gives the last shock to the frame the work is completed. The soul is that light in Gideon’s pitcher which shines out most clearly when the earthen vessel that held it is broken.

6. Last of all, we observe, as an illustration of this law, that the whole system of nature is shaken, but the new creation remains. That which we can trace in all past eras, rising still to a better and brighter, must reach its brightest and its best if there be truth in earth or heaven. The passing things in the universe must lead to something permanent, for time no more than space can have a sea without a shore. That new material creation shall be suited to the nature of man’s glorified, material frame, as that frame is suited to his perfected spirit. It must be free from all the elements of disorder and decay that press upon us here--a soil that never opens for a grave, a sky that never darkens with a cloud; to describe which God’s word fails, because it can only use figures drawn from things that are passing, and speak to finite minds enclosed within these limits. I do not know if there is anything that can give us a higher idea of that great end than this, that it is the end--the close to which all the events and processes around us are conducting--the one permanent, imperishable result of the history of the universe.

II. WE NOW COME TO INDICATE SOME OF THE BENEFITS THAT RESULT FROM THIS LAW. Could not God, it may be asked, have made a permanent world at first, without requiring us to pass through this process of change deepening so often to ruin? After all, this may be asking why God has seen fit to make this world under the condition of time, for, wherever time enters, change, as far as we can see, must accompany it. It may be that finite minds can learn, or at least begin their learning, only under some such forms of change as we see around us--processes of birth and growth and death and revival, taking place under our eyes, arresting our attention, and stimulating our study. It is a book where God is turning the pages to every generation, and giving it something new, an advancing development that bids men look back and forward. The world as we here see it is a becoming--a process where constant change is imprinted on all. It has seemed fit toGod’s wisdom to put us through such a course of learning, where change should be so prominent, and yet the permanent never far off to those who will feel after it till they find it; and if we could understand all things we might see that the proportion in which the two are mingled is best suited to our present condition. We come, however, to something more practical when we remark that this is a world into which moral disorder has entered, and that the painful changes that touch us are the consequence of it--the consequence of it, and yet an aid to the cure of it. Without sin there might still have been mutation, but it would have wanted the sting and the shadow. We have lost through our fall the true perception of spiritual and eternal realities, and we must be made to see them through painful contrasts. It is by this process, too, that we not only see the greatness of these permanent things, but learn to cleave to them as our portion. This at least is the purpose, and if God’s Spirit stirs the heart when His providence shakes the outward life this will be the result. Still further, things that are shaken preserve those things that are to remain until their suitable time of manifestation. God gives us earthly comforts and hopes, till He gives something better in their stead. A young Christian could not be reconciled to many things which the more advanced cheerfully accept. In our present state we could not bear the view of another world, and the veil is kept between till our souls are attempered. Meanwhile, the seed of the incorruptable is here now--the seed of the everlasting inheritance in these frail hearts, of the glorious body in these dying frames, of the new creation in the world we look on. The things that perish encase them, as winter’s snow covers the seed, as the husk the flower. When all is ready, the sun will come and the snow will melt, the husk will fall, the flower will blossom to the summer day, and we shall see that the things which perish have also their place in the plan of God. They are the veil between grace and glory, very needful, and only to be done away when that which is perfect shall have come, and we are ready to take possession of it. (J. Ker, D. D.)

A kingdom which cannot be moved

The immovableness of the gospel dispensation

The gospel dispensation is the “kingdom which cannot be moved.” It is described as a “kingdom which cannot be moved,” because it is the complete development of God’s design towards this earth, and not a mere herald of a fuller manifestation. And when St. Paul appeals to the reception of an immovable kingdom as furnishing a motive to earnestness in the service of God, he is to be considered as arguing from the fixedness of the present dispensation to the duty of a reverential and filial obedience. The object, therefore, of our discourse must be to display the fairness of such reasoning; in other words, to explain how the fact that the kingdom that cannot be moved furnishes a motive to the serving God “acceptably with reverence and with godly fear.”

I. First, then, upon general grounds. WHY SHOULD THE FIXEDNESS OF THE GOSPEL DISPENSATION URGE US TO DILIGENCE IN THE SERVICE OF GOD? Suppose we take the opposite supposition, and imagine that there had been none of this fixedness in the gospel of Christ. Let us conceive ourselves placed under an imperfect and temporal economy, and see what difference would be made in our moral position. If you could throw an air of doubtfulness around the completion of revelation--if rather you could prove that there was still a portion of God’s will to be made known; that we are not in possession of all that knowledge in respect of redemption which shall be communicated to man on this side of eternity, then immediately there would be engendered a feeling of restlessness and uncertainty; our minds, in place of setting themselves earnestly to the study of what was given, would waste themselves in conjecturing what was withheld. It is evident that under the Jewish dispensation there was a vast deal of this moral dissatisfaction. An absolute sickness of heart appears to have been felt by the most upright and pious at the long delay of a fuller revelation. There is just the difference between our condition under an immovable kingdom, and the condition of those who were under the movable kingdom, that there would be between a man who should be bidden to do something in the dark, and that of another man who should be told to do the same thing in the daylight. We will not say that the darkness is an apology for remissness, but that the sunshine takes away a great show of excuse. Receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, there are not brought to bear on us the disturbing forces which acted within the moral orbit of the Jew. We look straightway to Christ as a sacrifice, and are not set to behold Him in bulls and goats led up to the brazen altar. We can mark the Mediator, entering by His own blood into the holy of holies, and are not left to search out His intercession in that of a priest who, compassed with infirmity, needed for himself what he presented for others. We can go at once to “the fountain open for sin and uncleanness,” and are not required to learn the methods of spiritual purification from the multiplied processes of ceremonial. We have been made acquainted with the abolition of death, of life and immortality being brought vividly to light, and we are not reduced to a vague hope or dim conjecture of the resurrection of matter and of its fresh inhabitation by spirit. But in these and numerous like points of distinction lies the difference between a kingdom which can be moved and a kingdom which cannot be moved. That which cannot be moved is the substance, whilst that which can be moved is only the shadow. He, therefore, who is under the immovable, has realities within his grasp, whilst he who is under the movable has only figure and parable; and just in proportion that the knowing with precision what is to be hoped and what feared will make a man more decisive in action than the being left in doubt and uncertainty--in that same proportion ought energy under the immovable dispensation to carry it over energy under the movable dispensation. The statutes of this kingdom are not written in hieroglyphics; the laws of its citizenship are not propounded in enigmas; everything wears the aspect of a final and complete revelation; the figurative has given place to the literal: prophecy has sunk into performance; who, therefore, will refuse to acknowledge that there is laid upon those who receive the immovable kingdom a mighty weight of responsibleness over and above that which rested on the recipients of the movable? And if the fixedness of the dispensation thus enhance the responsibleness of its subjects, we put beyond controversy that the fixedness should furnish motives to the serving God “ acceptably with reverence and godly fear.”

II. Now we propose, in the second place, to make good the same truth on the particular ground which the apostle lays down. St. Paul argues the duty of obedience from the fixedness of the dispensation; BUT THEN HE SUBJOINS AS HIS CONCLUDING ARGUMENT--“For our God is a consuming fire.” Let us see how the several arguments are associated. We cannot be wrong in arguing that until the gospel was published--until, that is, the spiritual kingdom was finally settled on an immovable basis, there were points on which God’s will was not clearly ascertained, and men might easily have formed incorrect suppositions, forasmuch as they proceeded on an imperfect knowledge. Informed of God’s gracious design of providing pardon for the guilty, but not informed of the details of the arrangement, it might well come to pass that they would indulge in expectations which a fuller intelligence would have caused them to reject. They knew that God was “a consuming fire”; but they derived this knowledge from that tremendous outbreak of thunder and flame which accompanied the delivery of the law. But you will, we think, allow that if the Israelites knew God as “a consuming fire,” because so revealed on Mount Sinai, and if they did not as yet know thoroughly the character under which lie would reveal Himself on Mount Zion, it might be a matter of question with them whether the mildness of the one revelation would not so temper the fierceness of the other, that “a consuming fire” might no longer be a just description of God. They lived under a movable dispensation; the immovable which was to follow, came charged with discoveries of God’s purposes of lovingkindness; might there not consequently have been somewhat of hesitation on their minds as to whether the tire which blazed awfully before mercy was allowed to shine out in its brightness, would be equally devouring when the day of free pardon had dawned on the creation? But so soon as the kingdom became “a kingdom which cannot be moved”; the possible union of characters--the characters of the punishing God and the pardoning God--was established beyond the reach of a question or a doubt. We cannot, unless we hoodwink our understandings, and take pains to be the victims of a lie, flatter ourselves that judgment when brought out into action will be less fiery and less tremendous than when graven on the statute book. Ours is the immovable kingdom, and the very process by which this kingdom was set up and wrought into steadfastness witnesses with a testimony the most thrilling, that it was a law with God, the least swerving from which would be the shaking of His own throne, that sin must be punished before the sinner can be pardoned. It was on Zion ten thousandfold more than on Sinai, that the Almighty proved Himself “a consuming fire.” When the eternal Son in the might of the coalition of Deity and humanity went up the mountain side and laid Himself down on the altar, the substitute of a lost world, and there blazed forth the fires of justice to consume the sacrifice. Oh t then, far beyond the demonstration of Sinai, wrapped in flame and smoke, was there given a proof to all intelligent creation, that the emblem of God, when He deals with the guilty, shall be ever that of “a consuming fire.” Thus it was in giving fixedness to the dispensation that God manifested Himself as “a consuming fire.” The fact that the kingdom cannot be moved is an irresistible proof that the fire cannot be extinguished. Thus there is a connection, the very closest between the fixedness of the gospel dispensation and that character of God which sets Him forth as the devourer of the impenitent; and hence we gather that the argument to the “serving God acceptably,” which is drawn from His being “a consuming fire,” is but a particular case of the general argument derived from our “receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved.” Therefore, all our former reasons on the general argument must be applicable to the particular. Futurity comes charged with no softenings away of God’s wrath against sin; this is the fact that should nerve to obedience. We ought, perhaps, to say a word on the somewhat singular expression--“Let us have grace.” It can only refer to our seeking grace, to our improving grace. Without grace is it impossible that we should serve God acceptably, for man himself is void of all capacity for performing the will of his Maker; hence the being admonished that we may have grace to serve God acceptably is the same thing as being admonished that we set not to the work in any strength of our own, but that we go to God for assistance in order that we may honour God by obedience. And we may further observe that the service here demanded at our hands is of a nature which marks the awfulness of God. There is to be nothing of familiarity, there is to be nothing of forgetfulness of the unmeasured distance which, even when brought nigh by the blood of His own Son, separates between God and ourselves. Therefore we are to serve “with reverence and godly fear”; and though undoubtedly the fear which a Christian entertains towards God will be filial fear rather than slavish, the fear of a son who loves rather than that of a servant who dreads, yet it is certain that in our text an apprehension of wrath is supposed to be an element of godly fear. “Such would have been my lot,” will the Christian say, when musing on the fate of the impenitent, “had not free grace interposed, and God of His rich lovingkindness brought me up from destruction.” Carry away with you, then, this truth--the truth that peculiar interest in God is no encouragement to the throwing aside the most awful fear of God. “Our God is a consuming fire.” How rich the summit of privilege when you can say, “O God, Thou art my God! “ And yet when the summit is reached you must still look to the blazing, burning Deity for “our God,” my God, “is a consuming fire.” “At first glance,” says an old prelate, “these two expressions, ‘our God,’ and ‘a consuming fire,’ seem to look strangely at one another, but the Holy Ghost hath excellently tempered them.” He is our God--this corrects that despairing fear which would otherwise seize on us from the consideration of God as “a consuming fire.” But then, He is not only “our God”; He is also “a consuming fire”--this corrects that presumptuous irreverence to which else we might be emboldened by the consideration of our interest in God as “our God.” (H. Melvill, B. D.)

The immovable kingdom, or Christianity contrasted with earthquakes

In the case of Palestine, there had been ages of experience in volcanic convulsions before Bible times. Probably the great Mediterranean Sea is a pre-Adamic volcanic crevasse, by which Europe and Africa were separated from each other. Its many volcanoes are still active vents in the vast fissure. The Red Sea is almost certainly a volcanic crevasse separating Africa from Asia. That crevasse runs up northward from Mount Sinai to Mount Hermon, through the whole length of Palestine. The river Jordan, with its two lakes and the Dead Sea, are in the bottom of that great volcanic crevasse, far below the surface of the Mediterranean. The oldest historical record of an earthquake tells how God knocked a little more of the bottom out of that crevasse, at the south end of the Dead Sea, and let it swallow up the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and the whole vale of Siddim. But “Bela,” the old name of Zoar, meant “convulsions” before Lot fled thither. There are records of earthquakes, and allusions to them, all through the Old Testament, in the Psalms, Prophets, and historical books. The imagery of our text is all taken from that great earthquake with which God accompanied, and sublimely emphasised, His giving of the law on Mount Sinai. That shaking of the literal mountain lies at the base of the figurative and spiritual use which is made of it by the author of this Epistle to the Hebrews. They knew and gloried in the history, and could feel the force of its application when reminded of “a kingdom that could not be shaken.” But for us, that we may understand it, let us consider

I. THE MEANING OF THIS IMMOVABLE KINGDOM: WHAT IS ITS SIGNIFICATION? To this question there are for us two answers.

1. Christianity in contrast with Judaism. A striking contrast here, from the eighteenth verse onward, between Judaism, as represented by Mount Sinai, where it was revealed; and Christianity, represented by Mount Zion, where it was revealed. The one is clad in material terrors, the other in spiritual glories. To approach the one is death, the other life. The one reveals the law against sin, the other salvation from sin. The one shakes the world with an earthquake of wrath against all unrighteousness, the other with the Pentecostal earthquake of joy at the bringing in of everlasting righteousness. The one shakes a temporal mountain, but leaves the ceremonial law as a barrier between the Gentile world and salvation; the other shakes down the old dispensation of types and shadows, but leaves in its place the unshakable and final dispensation of grace, the pure and simple principles of justification, holiness, union with God, and eternal salvation, all through Christ. But this “immovable kingdom” also means

2. Christianity in its wider contrast between all earthly and perishing things, on the one hand, and the spiritual and unperishing things of the soul and salvation, on the other hand. What a stupendous symbol of the perishableness of all earthly interests is this which the apostle uses as a foil to set off the unperishing durability of the kingdom of Jesus Christ over the souls and destinies of men! Let earthquakes shatter all created things. Let all that earth has to offer, its loves, its hopes, its possessions and ambitions, perish together. The soul that has received by faith the unperishing kingdom of Christ has a possession which not only endures, but saves its possessor with it, and fills his inmost soul with consciousness of eternal riches, eternal strength, and joy. He who has Jesus in his soul knows that be has the last thing, the best thing, the eternal thing. The immovable kingdom is his. No changes of ritual, no translation of priesthood, no civil revolution, no providential catastrophe of earth or time can affect him. He is an heir of God for ever. And now it is in view of our noble heirship to this glorious and immovable kingdom that Paul adds, as a logical conclusion, introduced by the “wherefore.”

II. THE EXHORTATION TO FITNESS FOR THE HEIRSHIP OF SUCH A KINGDOM. “Let us have grace, whereby we may offer service well-pleasing unto God, with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.” There are three points in this exhortation.

1. This heirship demands a corresponding service on our part. We must “offer service well-pleasing unto God.” In the ages of the old feudal kingdoms of Europe, all the smaller or feudatory kingdoms, principalities, dukedoms, earldoms, &c., were held as the direct gift of the sovereign crown, and homage must be rendered and feudal service in arms pledged to the sovereign king by the heirs to the various feudatory principalities, &c., before they could be invested with their inheritances, however great. And so it is with the heirs of the glorious kingdom of Christ.

2. The rendering of such a service requires the abiding grace of God in our souls, as a qualification therefor. “Let us have grace,” said the apostle, “that we may so serve God.” Ah, he knew how much of the deep inward grace of God is necessary for such a service. It is not enough that we know the will of God and theoretically accept it. The Israelites did that in the desert, and yet, at the very foot of Mount Sinai, and then, after all the glorious manifestations of God’s power in the flaming mountain and the quaking earth, they backslid into idolatry then and there, in the very presence of the glory of God. The reason for this was that they had not the grace of God in their hearts. Their reverence and obedience lasted while the earthquake lasted, but no longer. It was not the “grace,” not even the holy “reverence and awe” of our text. We ought all to say for ourselves, “Let us have grace.” It is for us, and for us all. We may have it if we will seek it. It is the work of the Holy Spirit in us; and what is there which God is so willing to give as the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him?

3. A solemn warning against negligence in this matter. “For our God is a consuming fire.” It is not too much for us to serve God “with reverence and awe.” God is the same now as He was at Mount Sinai. He was Jehovah, the Angel of the Covenant, the pre-incarnate Jesus then; who then spake on earth, but now speaks from heaven. All that He then showed of power and majesty is still at His command. In His incarnation storms, diseases, deaths, and devils obeyed Him, and voices from heaven attested His Deity. (G. L. Taylor, D. D.)

Service in the kingdom of God

I. THE DOCTRINE IS THIS: THESE HEBREWS RECEIVED A KINGDOM WHICH COULD NOT BE MOVED. And it is first to be explained, and the difficulty lies in this phrase of receiving a kingdom. For

1. There is a kingdom.

2. This kingdom cannot be moved.

3. They received it.

II. THE EXHORTATION FOLLOWETH, WHERE THE DUTY IS TO HAVE GRACE TO SERVE GOD.

1. By grace may be meant the doctrine of grace, which is the gospel so called (Titus 2:11).

2. Faith and belief.

3. The profession of this faith.

4. The sanctifying power of the Spirit, which all true believers and professors have; and this presupposeth all the former, or infolds them. To have this grace is to have this sanctifying power, and to hold it, keep it, exercise it more and more. The end why we must have and hold it is, that we may serve God. This implies that God is the Sovereign in this kingdom, and we are the subjects, and our duty is continually to serve our Lord and King. To serve Him, is not only with all humility to adore His excellent Majesty, but also sincerely, wholly, and absolutely to submit unto His power and obey His laws. This implies

I. THE IMMUTABILITY OF THE GOSPEL DISPENSATION.

The immovable kingdom

1. It is the complement and perfection of all prior dispensations of religion; that to which they were but introductory, and in which they were merged and consummated.

2. Its chief and blessed Administrator, our Lord Jesus, is declared as such to be eternal. He shall always stand in this relation to His people. He shall ever be “Head over all things to the Church.”

3. Another proof that this kingdom cannot be moved is, that it perfectly answers the end of all religion.

II. THE PRACTICAL INFERENCE. “Let us have grace,” says the apostle, taking it for granted that all who earnestly desire and properly seek it, shall obtain. It is most liberally offered and most freely bestowed.

1. This grace is to be obtained in order that we may “serve God.” We are to return to Him from our alienation; to relinquish our guilty rebellion; and to bind ourselves to Him in sincere and ceaseless allegiance. His laws are to be ever obeyed, His glory supremely sought.

2. To those who thus resolve to give up themselves to God, it must be further shown that we are to “ serve God acceptably, with reverence and godly fear.”

The immovable kingdom:

It is obvious that anything which can be termed the “kingdom of God” must be immovable. But we propose to consider rather some of those elements which are not so readily, not so necessarily recognised, and the word “receiving” of our text suggests the direction in which we must seek. It is a word of much force. It is more than “receiving” simply as “taking.” The preposition, which is compounded with the verb, suggests the idea of “by the side”; so that when we thus receive, we receive by the placing of ourselves by the side of, in a certain identification, in a certain intimate blending of ourselves with the thing received. We thus make it our own, it becomes part of our own peculiar property--part of ourselves, we might say. Perhaps the best interpretation of this text may be found in the words of the Lord addressed to Peter, when this disciple had made his famous confession. Christ’s Church was to be built upon that foundation of life and faith which the confession of Peter indicated. Not the truth as an abstract proposition; not the individual as a personal historical item; but the truth apprehended, the truth felt, the truth obeyed in the living man. This is the foundation of the Church. And this is the acceptance of the kingdom. That this is the fact, needs only a review of history to determine. The essential elements of this kingdom were as truly existent before the coming of Jesus Christ as after. It was necessary that Christ should appear m historic time and form, and therefore lie must have appeared at some time and under some form; and yet all that His work produced, and the dependence of the moral and spiritual life of man upon Hint and His atonement were as real before as after His advent. “Christianity as old as the Creation,” or at least “as old as the Fall,” is a phrase that the Christian is quite prepared to accept, even though it came from a sceptical and destructive quarter. What changed, and passed, and disappeared, are not of the essence of religion. That remained, and the historical Christ, and the Christian Church, and the post-Christian era only illustrate and explain and illuminate the truths which are eternal. And this is the lesson of all the experiences through which the gospel has passed. It has known persecution, but persecution only strengthened the faith, and while it purged away the false and the weak, it but tempered and purified the true. No new element of truth introduced, no other means of acceptance with the Father, no other name given under heaven whereby men shall be guyed, but the one, “Christ Jesus, who is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.” And, as we have said, we shall find the source of this immovableness in the possession which the kingdom takes of our own inner life. We call attention now to these subjective, these human aspects of the gospel. Do men want a religion of humanity? Here is the religion of humanity. Our spirits crave for it, our hearts leap up to it when it comes; our consciences accept it and commend it; the entire nature closes with it as the faith of man; and even the baser being, as it sinks down into its condemnation and its death, echoes back, in the cry of hatred with which it receives it, the truth, the human, the Divine, the eternal, and changeless truth of the religion of Jesus Christ. The first element in what we may call this human aspect of the immovable kingdom that we receive, is the appeal which the gospel makes to man’s moral nature, and the response which is made to it upon that side of its teaching concerning the lost and helpless condition of man. Man’s nature is in revolt; there is strife, and sickness, and a certain death. And these the gospel recognises, and to these it addresses itself, and so remains for ever unchanged, whilst the heart of man is what it is. God builds its foundations, and He lays them in the very depths of the human soul. Another fact of human nature which is recognised in the gospel scheme, and makes for its unchangeableness, is the complete helplessness of man to extricate himself front the position in which he finds himself. Man is lost; man in his loss is helpless. These are the two profound facts of human nature. Christianity fully recognises both of these truths. They may be called the human axioms of the Christian scheme, the first principles of salvation through Jesus Christ. And these abide for ever in the nature of man. The kingdom of grace includes a further truth--viz., that of a Saviour who is Christ the Lord. Man attains his glory in personality. It is the assertion of his personality which is the condition of the catastrophe that has overcome him. It is the sense of personality which reveals continuously and with horrid stings of upbraiding conscience and alarming sanctions of threatening law the miserable condition of helplessness in which he lies; and so man everywhere turns to the thought of a person, to any pretension of a person, to any supposed fact of a person, to the personal life, the personal work, the personal sympathy, for the salvation he requires. Hence the kingdom of salvation is the kingdom of Jesus Christ; the message of mercy is the life of Jesus; the comfort of man is the name of Jesus; the warrant of hope is the promise of Jesus. Jesus is the ceaseless, the changeless gospel of the human heart. And all this, according to the truth of the gospel, is made perpetual and abiding by a power which shall ever dwell in the hearts and lives of men. A Holy Spirit for ever dwells in the Church of God; that Spirit who was the energy of creative power; that Spirit who was the inspiration of the good, and the holy, and the true in every age; that Spirit who is the very life and communion of the Godhead itself. It is this that makes the kingdom immovable. What is genius arrayed against this power of God? What can wit with keenest arms effect against this force? What can the wear and ruin of all human life waste when there is ever this source of power and renewal to revivify and repair? The kingdom of God is immovable; and this you may receive through Jesus Christ our Lord. (L. D. Bevan, D. D.)

The kingdom that cannot be moved:

One of the Red:Republicans of 1793 was telling a good peasant of La Vendee, “We are going to pull down your churches and your steeples--all that recalls the superstitious of past ages, and all that brings to your mind the idea of God.” “Citizen,” replied the good Vendeean, “pull down the stars then.” (W. Baxendale.)

Let us have grace

Our need of Divine grace

1. We need it, not only for reformation and change of character, but also for the preservation of character when good and upright. It must be admitted that early discipline and long-established habit may do much to mould the heart and the mind; but that these things are enough to keep the character from harm, and to plant around it an invincible protection from sudden and unexpected contingencies of trial, is contradicted by experience and by the past and present history of man in every form and condition of his existence. But look at the case in a religious point of view. I say religious, because that involves the higher purposes of being, the exercise of the nobler powers, and the destinies which reach onward through an endless futurity. When referring to this subject, virtue, in all its various aspects of loveliness and usefulness, is not only to be regarded as virtue simply, but virtue produced, upheld, and protected by a power superhuman. Under a religious influence, any one of the virtues you might name is turned into new and heavenly channels; and while it retains all its natural elements, it becomes changed in the nobleness of its motives, in the grandeur of its purposes, and in the glory of its objects. What can bring about this change but Divine grace?

2. It is obtainable. It is freely given simply upon the condition of being asked for in Sincerity and faith. As the weary traveller can freely partake of the stream of water by his side, though he be penniless, so the man burdened by guilt, without God and without hope in the world--an alien from the commonwealth of Israel, homeless, and without a guide on the broad and desert-wastes of the world--can partake freely of the grace of God, as a Fountain opened for sin and uncleanness.

3. Consider, in the time of any sore trial, what a source of strength and comfort may be found in the Divine grace. At such times we sink under the weight of our own suffering. Overpowered by the affliction, we find no strength within us to bear us up against it. We try according to our means to counteract the suffering; but memory, ever busy, calls up to our minds, in defiance of our earthly resources, a thousand painful associations; and the deep mourning thoughts of the heart linger where the pain arises. In vain we look around us for help--help enough to break down the agony and to crush it. But the grace of God can bring to the wounded and crushed heart a remedy. It, and it only, can blend feeling with precept; bind up in one the soothing power of sympathy with the earnestness of hope; the assurance of faith with the anticipation of rest for evermore. (W. D.Horwood.)

Serve God acceptably

Acceptable service:

Many things are absolutely needful for the acceptance of any service rendered unto God: of these some are not stated in the text, but they are so important that I commence with mentioning them. The first is that the person who attempts to serve God should himself be accepted. The offerer must himself be accepted in the Beloved, or his offering will be tainted by his condition and be inevitably unacceptable. The next essential is that, the act being performed by a person accepted, it should be distinctly done as unto God. Our text speaks of serving God. Alas, much is done which is in itself externally commendable, but it is not acceptable to God, because it is not rendered unto Him, and with a view to His glory. And we must take care that all this is done with faith in Christ Jesus; for it is a law of universal observation in the kingdom of heaven that “without faith it is impossible to please God.” We must bring our offering to Jesus, our great High Priest, and He must present it for us, for it can only be acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. These things being mentioned, I now confine myself to the text itself, which has in it a world of solemn, heart-searching thought with regard to the acceptable service of God.

I. If we are to serve God acceptably, it must be UNDER A SENSE OF OUR IMMEASURABLE OBLIGATION TO HIM. Look, “Wherefore we receiving a kingdom” &c. See, whatever service we may render to God, we must begin by being receivers. “We receiving a kingdom.” What a gift to receive! This is a Divine gift; we have received, not a pauper’s pension, but a kingdom--“a kingdom which cannot be moved.” “But,” say you, “we have not received this kingdom yet.”

1. I answer that we have received it in a certain sense; we have received it first in the promise. “I appoint unto you a kingdom as My Father hath appointed unto Me.” “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

2. More than this, we have received it in the principles of it. “The kingdom of God is within you.” As the fairest flower lies packed away within the little shrivelled seed, and wants but time and sun to develop all its beauty, so perfection, glory, immortality and bliss unspeakable lie hidden away within the grace which God hath given unto all His people. “He that believeth in Him hath everlasting life.” The life of heaven is begun within the believer.

3. Moreover, in a measure we have received this kingdom in the power of it. God hath endowed you with power from on high by giving you the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

4. Moreover, you have received much of the provision and protection of that kingdom.

II. Acceptable service must be rendered to God Is THE POWER OF DIVINE GRACE. “Let us have grace whereby we may serve God acceptably.” Note, then, that acceptable service to God is not offered in the power of nature, not even of nature at its best, when we call it good nature and philanthropy; but in the service of God everything must be the fruit of grace. You are to serve the Lord, not in the strength of your own wit or experience, or talent, but in the energy of the new life which God has given you, and in the power of the grace which is continually bestowed upon you moment by moment as you seek it of the Lord.

III. To “serve God acceptably,” WE MUST DO IT WITH REVERENCE. The word, according to Bishop Hopkins, signifies a holy shamefacedness. The angels veil their faces with their wings when they worship the Most High, and we must veil ours with humility. The angels feel their own littleness when they stand before the presence of the dread Supreme. You and I who are much less than angels, and have sinned, should, when we come before God, be covered with blushes. Our heart should be filled with wonder that we are called to this high privilege, though we are so unworthy of it.

IV. The other word is, “with godly fear”; and this suggests that we should serve God IN THE SPIRIT OF HOLY CAREFULNESS. We ought to fear lest we should offend the Lord even while we are serving Him; fear lest the sacrifice should be a blemished one, and so be rejected at the altar; fear lest there should be something about our spirit and temper which would grieve the Lord. He is a jealous God, and must be served with holy carefulness.

V. We must cultivate A PROFOUND SENSE OF THE DIVINE HOLINESS and of the wrath of God against sin, “For our God is a consuming fire.” Observe, then, from this most solemn sentence that the God of the Old Testament is the God of the New Testament (Deuteronomy 4:24). While the Lord is merciful, infinitely so, and His name is Love; yet still our God is a consuming fire, and sin shall not live in His sight. If your offering and mine be evil, it will be an abomination unto Him. He is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity; if our worship and service are mingled with hypocrisy and pride, He will not endure them. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Acceptable service

I. OUR RELATION TO GOD, PRODUCED BY THE GOSPEL, NECESSARILY DEMANDS OUR SERVICE. God has given us salvation at a tremendous cost. He not only sent His Son, but He spared not that Son. God not only spike by prophets, and by holy men of old, but He was “in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself.” We serve, therefore, not merely an existent Deity, a splendid and majestic God, but we serve One who has wrought and suffered loss, and made valuable cost, and borne diminishing, and self-emptying, and death for us. The kingdom is not a mere natural growth, not a mere inheritance; it is a conquest gained after terrible conflict, assured only at the price of the blood of Jesus Christ. Hence logic, and rhetoric, and poetry, and art--these are poor responses to such service for us as God has rendered. Even praise, though it should be in hymns themselves inspired, seems feeble as a return for such affluence of service as we have received. We, too, must serve; we, too, must render back in thankfulness all that we have, all that we are.

II. THE SERVICE WHICH WE CAN RENDER UNTO GOD IS THE CONTINUAL SENSE OF GRATEFULNESS UNDER WHICH WE OUGHT TO LIVE TOWARDS HIM. The position of the believing recipient of the grace of God is a paradox. He must serve; and yet what service can he render? What does God need? How shall the Infinite and the Eternal be added to or made more great?

Besides, what have we that we can render? All that is ours is already God’s. From Him it came; by Him it consists; on Him it depends. To give Him aught, then, is only to give Him His own. Oh, wondrous paradox of a Divine necessity! We must serve, and we have no service; we must render, and we have and are nothing. See yonder snowflake dropping into the ocean. It has vanished in a moment, and is lost in the boundless fulness of that heaving deep. What can the snowflake add to the immensity of waters? Was it not itself exhaled from that ocean, and ascending as vapour, caught by the cold of the sky, and sent back again to its ocean source? See yonder mirror, flashing back the light towards the sun. What shall that reflected beam add to the glory and brightness of the centre of all light? It is only the return of the ray upon its own path, which had already come from the sun itself. And so what is our service, what is the best we can do, the richest we can give? It has only found the place whence it first came. Here, then, our text comes to our help. “Let us have gratefulness,” it says, “and by this let us serve God acceptably.” “Whoso offereth thanks glorifieth Me, and follows a path in which I will show him the salvation of Elohim.” This spirit changes all life into a service. Every scene is a temple. Every word is worship. A work of bounty, of compassion, of self-denial, does not exhaust this grateful spirit. It does always its best, and then, when the best is done, cries with true self-knowledge, “We are but unprofitable servants.” And may it not be here, that the quality of the service, as suggested by the word “acceptably” of our text, should rightly be considered? Acceptable service we are commanded to render, and the more we contemplate the service, and the power we have to pay it, the more clearly we find our inability, our utter bankruptcy even of gratitude. Then, we remember that the sacrifice, which redeemed our souls from death, the atonement by which our sins were expiated and our guilt removed, still remains all efficient, ceaseless in its power, infinite in its appealing force with God. “The things that were shaken” passed away, we learned, “that the things that could not be shaken” might remain. And the blended law and love which were found in the “ blood that speaketh better things than that of Abel,” in the Jesus, “Mediator of the new covenant,” these passed not, but remain for ever. And so our failing gratitude, our empty return, our poor gift of service--these can all be filled to a Divine fulness at the Cross of Jesus.

III. WE LEARN THE SPIRIT IN WHICH OUR SERVICE SHOULD BE FOR EVER RENDERED. “With reverent submission, and godly fear.” Reverent submission is the becoming, and careful, and observant attitude of the soul, keenly alive to the holiness of God and its own unworthiness. Our words should be few and fitting and well chosen, our penitence deep and real, our feeling true and sweet, our desires pure and high; and thus should we worship and bow down with “reverence and godly fear.” (L. D.Bevan, D. D.)

The true spirit of service

I once saw a beautiful device and motto painted on the walls of a Sabbath-school. It was an ox standing between an altar and a plough, with the words underneath, “Ready for either.” The altar represented suffering, and the plough serving; and the ox stood ready to be laid on the altar or to be yoked into the plough, equally ready for suffering or serving, as the owner wished. We should ask God to make us ready for either. Your life will be a poor withered thing unless you try to serve Christ. An old man reading the Bible came to the words, “Ye are My friends if ye do whatsoever I command you.” He stopped and said with a smile, “Yes, and ye are your own friends too.” He is his own worst enemy who shuns the service of Christ.

With reverence and godly fear

Reverence

Robert Hall once remarked, when criticising the habit of a lady addicted to easy, familiar talk of the Divine Being: “It is a great mistake to affect this kind of familiarity with the King of kings, and speak of Him as though He were a next door neighbour, from the pretence of love.”

Godly fear:

Love and fear are the positive and negative poles of the same electric bar, and are both forces convertible into aids to holiness. Love rules in the home, and its sunshine is the life of all who dwell therein; but fear of marring the domestic peace, spoiling the domestic purity, or poisoning the domestic joy, is a temper that pervades and chastens, hallows and enlarges the household life. Our soldiers fight for the love of country, but how unspeakably they are goaded forward in the severity of battle by the dread of losing their country’s flag! In the finest types of married life, it is not till years of perfect communion and of character-assimilating love have made husband and wife a complete unity, and blent soul with soul, and will with will, that all fear is gone--if indeed it ever is. Certainly in the earlier stages it is a spur to that continual and anxious attention to aid, and not to hinder, in developing the one life, which finally becomes the gracious habit and beautiful form of the domestic ministry. (J. Clifford, D. D.)


Verse 29

Hebrews 12:29

Our God is a consuming fire

The fire of God

I.
THE FACT. It is doubly certified. Science and revelation attest it with concordant voices. The testimony of Nature, as interpreted by science, affirms the working upon a prodigious scale of a law of destruction, ever since life first appeared upon the globe. The scientific formula of this law is in the familiar phrase, “the survival of the fittest.” For countless ages there has been going on throughout the domain of physical life, a relentless extirpation of the weak by the strong, of the sickly by the healthy, of the ill-conditioned by the welt-conditioned. The gradual development of improved forms of life has been secured by the constant destruction of inferior and deteriorated forms. There is no statement of the Bible to which science, in studying the development of nature, more thoroughly asserts than to this: “Our God is a consuming fire.” But when we pass up from the lower forms of life in which we see this inexorable rooting up and weeding out of the less vigorous and healthy, we find in humanity a life which is capable of improvement by a different method. God introduces a higher method when He introduces a higher subject that is capable of it. The chief difference between man and the highest of the creatures below him is in the teachableness of man. Hence the difference of method in the improvement of the lower and the higher types of life. In the lower, improvement by elimination of the unfit; the unimprovable perish. But in the higher, education of the unfit; the improvable are saved. The method which, in the lower, results in the survival of the fittest, is superseded in the higher by a method of fitting to survive. But now we have to observe that, wherever this higher method is resisted, the lower method still holds sway. See how sins against the body are punished still by fiery inflammations, hectic consumptions, burning ulcers, fierce disorders of nerve and brain, in which the drunkard, the debauchee, the glutton, and other transgressors of the laws of physical health are, as it were, consumed from among the living. See, also, how national or social sins against humanity, righteousness, purity, or any of the laws of social health, are punished by social cancers, which burn out social patriotism, eat away the social conscience, consume the nerves of national life, devour the youth in the heats of vice, kindle the conflagrations of war, and shrivel UP the glory of empire. The same thing is shown, and with special significance, by the familiar phenomena of remorse.

II. OUR PERSONAL RELATION TO THE FACT. We shall best approach the truth by entering into sympathy with the sentiment apparent in the text. There is no tone of dismay in it. It is inexpressibly solemn, but with no sign of shrinking as from an object of dread. It is uttered with the profoundest awe, but without the slightest sign of alarm, and seems to speak as from under a safe shelter in the blazing throne itself. The whole thought is coloured by the dominating word of sympathy and affection--“our.” So might the dear child of some strict guardian of the law say: “My father is terribly just.” It is spoken out of a heart that is at one with God in the peace of a filial endeavour to think His thought and to live His truth--a heart for which the fire of God has no terror, because no evil which belongs to that fire is guiltily held back from it. It is spoken out of a heart in which is even now progressing that purifying work which was ascribed in prophecy to Jesus (Matthew 3:11). Thus, when we have seen a little child put forth its hand to some forbidden object, we have seen that hand drop nerveless, and the whole frame recoil in confusion, as the mother’s glance of mild reproof shot through the windows of the tempted soul--“a consuming fire” to the impulse of transgression. So is the thought of “our God” to a loving child of God. As his irregular desires and selfish impulses melt away in his awakened consciousness of the Father’s presence, he finds there is grace and salvation in his wholesome experience that to his sin our God is a consuming fire.” (J. M. Whiton, D. D.)

The consuming fire

1. Fire is the most powerful agent in the world. It supplies heat, which is the source of life and existence in all nature. It destroys all vegetable substances, and resolves them into their original elements. It purifies all corruption, and removes all impurities.

2. But fire cannot destroy or injure the valuables of the mineral kingdom. Gold and silver are purified by its influence, their impurities are destroyed, but they themselves are uninjured. The excrescences are removed, but the substance remains.

3. This image is introduced to represent the influence of God’s Spirit. What does it consume? Not the precious gold or the valued stones, but the more worthless substances--hay, straw, stubble, &c.

I. ALL MEN MUST PASS THROUGH THE FIRES. That is, they must be subject to the scrutiny of God’s righteous judgment. This is as a refiner’s furnace.

II. THE RIGHTEOUS, BEING AS PURE GOLD, SHALL COME OUT OF THIS FIRE BEAUTIFUL AND UNINJURED. The dross of their characters shall be removed, their corruption shall be destroyed, and their hopes, confidence, and prospects enlarged.

III. THE WICKED, BEING LIKE THE CHAFF, SHALL BE CONSUMED IN THE FURNACE. Their hopes--being as a spider’s web--shall be carried away.

IV. OUR GOD IS A CONSUMING FIRE.

1. TO His people this is a welcome thought; for He shall consume all that is hateful and repulsive to them.

2. To the sinful it is a thought of terror; for He shall destroy all that upon which they trust, and leave them helpless, desolate, lost. (Homilist.)

The consuming fire:

The use of the element of fire as a symbol for the Supreme Being is familiar enough. Ancient marriage-rites involved the use of fire as a sign of that divinity in whose presence the marriage was performed, and who was invoked as a witness of the unbroken pledge taken by those entering into the sacred bond of wedlock. In India a fire is kindled of some sacred wood. The mango-tree is often used for this purpose. The fire is lighted in the middle of the room; the young people sit on stools. The Brahmin commences an incantation. Then they arise and walk round the fire three times. “Fire is the witness of their covenant, and, if they break it, fire will be their destruction.” “Call your son,” says the father of the bride according to an ancient story, “call your son, that I may give him to my daughter in the presence of the god of fire, that he may be the witness.” Then “Usteyar gave his daughter Verunte in marriage, the fire being the witness.” Who can fail in this to see a reflection of the story of the burning lamp and the smoking furnace in the vision of Abraham? It is not wonderful that the worship of fire should have been one of the forms of idolatry by which men corrupted the true idea of the ever-blessed God. The rising sun in his morning splendours, the strength of that luminary in noonday brightness, the glory of the setting sun, the moon in her beauty walking through the palaces of the heavens, the countless stars shining in the glories of the nightly firmament, what more striking images of God, if man must employ such!

1. In the first place, there is the idea of purity, which belongs as an essential quality to the element itself. It is not possible to conceive of a flame as impure. And such flame is incorruptible too. Water and air, both also symbols of purity, may be tainted and befouled. But the flame, when still flame, compels whatever it may touch, and changes it into itself, into its own purity and freedom from defilement. Fire is the final, the only perfect purgation, because it is itself the only absolutely pure element. Who can tell the purity of God whose symbol is a flame? No word of ours can add to that simple idea.

2. Fire is a defence, a means of protection, and to symbolise the strong refuges of God’s people is thus often used. The fire descending and consuming the offering was a gracious and encouraging sign of acceptance and favour. The chariots and horsemen of fire proved to be the defence and guard of the man of God. The pillar of fire that the people saw rising above the encampment at night and towering into the heaven, was their cheer, their protection in the wandering of the wilderness. What comfort does the bivouacing party not take in the fire that is kindled among the tents; and as it throws its strange and fantastic illumination upon the scene around, how the forest darkness is illumined or the solitude of the plain cheered by a sort of companionship of light! when the travellers in lonely places, where only the stealthy footfall of the beast of prey upon the crisp leaves, or the crackling boughs and branches fallen from the overhanging trees, breaks the solemn silence, light up their fires and make a line of blazing points around their halting-place, they know that they can sleep securely, and their beasts of burden are safe from the sudden spring of the tiger, the cruel teeth of the hungry lion. So is our God the comfort and the defence of His people. In the lonely ways of life He lights their path, and casts a gleam of comfort upon their desolate spirits. The world were very cold and very dark without our God. The vast spaces of the universe would stretch around us into illimitable distance, and nothing could issue thence to press upon our souls but the forces of death and destruction, ruin and despair. But let the soul feel that God is there, and then the whole is enlightened by a Father’s presence, and every force in nature becomes a ministry of love. What a refuge and a defence is God with His people! Around us prowl the enemies of the soul. The roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour, is near, but we are centred within the love of God, and he dares not rush upon that consuming fire within which we are safe.

3. But the energy of fire is not only repellent; it also is communicative. Air may wear down a substance presented to it and reduce it to dust, water may dissolve and change the form of that upon which it acts; but fire seizes an object, separates its particles, kindles them to burning, and then compels them to burn up in the flame of its own consuming. Fire kindles, fire sets on fire. These symbols of the Divine Being suggest this comunicableness of the Divine nature and activity which is the very basis of our religious, our Divine life. That old legend of Prometheus, told by Apollodorus, how he made the first man and woman out of clay, and animated them by the fire which he stole from heaven, is only the grotesque and paganised version of the deep truth of the life of God within the soul of man that the Scriptures reveal and illustrate. It is fire that gives life. It is the burning rays of the sun that vitalise and inspire all the dead matter of the earth, and cover this world with the beauty and movement, the varied forms and colours and activities of plant and flower, bird and beast. Man’s life is but fire, and we get it from the central fire of the universe. And so of the higher life, the life of faith, of love, of holy character. This is gained from God. He who finds Jesus Christ, there finds God; and God in Christ, and by the Holy Spirit, who comes through Christ, kindles the flame of a Divine life within his heart.

4. The passage from this thought to that of the purifying power of fire is not difficult or forced. Some have seen only this in the word. We think that would be too much. To limit the extent of the application so as not to see this, however, would be as completely to miss its significance. When the new life began, how much of earth mingled with its heavenly constituents! There was selfishness, and greed, and passion, and sloth. There was pride, and envy, and hard-heartedness, and love of the world. There was slackness and doubting, and infidelity and neglect. There was ingratitude and insensibility, blindness to the show of God’s face, and deafness to the sound of God’s voice. But slowly the burning flame of the Divine nature has purged the evil. “A consuming fire! “ A deeper, darker mystery still lies behind it all. Did the exhortation suggest us grace and piety, it also, in language unmistakable, bids us entertain a becoming and a godly fear. We have no desire to hide, we dare not hide, the solemn and the awful truth. That Divine nature, a burning fire, is a refuge, a defence, a quickening, purifying force; but be not deceived, it is also a destroying element. Material fire is purging to one thing when it is destructive of another. The fine gold it refines; the dross, the baser substance, it consumes, it destroys. And that Divine life which cleanses and renews, and purifies the faithful, the penitent, the obedient, becomes a burning indignation, a ceaseless and consuming fire against the soul that renders not its due honour and makes not its life its own. (L. D. Bevan, D. D.)

The severity of God

I. WE WILL ENDEAVOUR TO GIVE YOU DISTINCT NOTIONS OF THAT WHICH THE SCRIPTURE CALLS THE WRATH, THE ANGER, THE VENGEANCE OF GOD. Recollect that when the Scripture speaks of the perfections and operations of God it borroweth images from the affections and actions of men. Things that cannot be known to us by themselves can be understood only by analogy. Divine things are of this kind. From this remark follows a precaution--that is, that we must carefully lay aside every part of the emblem that agreeth only to men from whom it is borrowed, and apply only that part to the Deity which is compatible with the eminence of His perfections.

II. Observe THAT THOSE EMBLEMS OF WRATH AND VENGEANCE UNDER WHICH GOD IS REPRESENTED TO US HAVE ONE PART THAT CANNOT BE ATTRIBUTED TO HIM, because it is not compatible with the eminence of His perfections, and another that must be applied to Him because it is.

1. It is a consequence of the frailty or of the depravity of men that their anger inclines them to hate those whom they ought to love, and in whose happiness they ought to interest themselves as far as they can without violating the laws of equity. Such a hatred cannot be attributed to God; He loves all His intelligent creatures.

2. It is a consequence of human frailty or depravity that men’s wrath makes them taste a barbarous pleasure in tormenting those who are the objects of it, and in feasting, as it were, on their miseries. This is incompatible with the eminence of the perfections of God.

3. It is a consequence of the frailty or of the depravity of men that their anger disorders their bodies and impairs their minds. See, the eyes sparkle, the mouth foams, the animal spirits are in a flame; these obscure the faculties of the mind, and prevent the weighing of those reasons that plead for the guilty offender; anger prejudgeth him, and, in spite of many powerful pleas in his favour, his ruin is resolved. All these are incompatible with the eminence of the perfections of God. God is a spirit; He is not subject to revolutions of sense; reasons of punishing a sinner never divert His attention from motives of pardoning the man or of moderating his pain.

4. It is a consequence of the frailty and depravity of men that their anger makes them usurp a right which belongs to God. God useth His own right when He punisheth sin.

5. It is a consequence of the frailty and depravity of men that time doth not abate their resentment, and that the only reason which prevents the rendering of evil for evil is a want of opportunity; as soon as an opportunity offers they eagerly embrace it. This is incompatible with the eminence of the perfections of God; He hath at all times the means of punishing the guilty.

6. It is a consequence of the frailty and depravity of men that their anger puts them upon considering and punishing a pardonable frailty as an atrocious crime. This is incompatible with the eminence of the Divine perfections. If we imagine that God acts so in any cases, it is because we have false notions of sins, and think that a pardonable frailty which is an atrocious crime.

III. We are to conciliate WHAT THE SCRIPTURE SAITH OF THE GOODNESS OF GOD WITH WHAT IT SAITH OF HIS ANGER OR VENGEANCE and as the two subjects never appear more irreconciliable than when, having used all our endeavours to terrify people who defer their conversion till a dying illness, we actually take pains to comfort those who have deferred it till that time, we will endeavour to harmonise the goodness and justice of God in that particular point of view.

1. First, let us endeavour, in a general view, to reconcile the goodness of God with His justice by laying down a few principles.

2. Let us now apply this general harmony of the goodness and severity of God to the removing of a seeming inconsistency in the conduct of your preachers and casuists, who first use every effort to alarm and terrify your minds with the idea of a death-bed repentance, and afterward take equal pains to comfort you when ye have deferred your repentance to that time, and when your case appears desperate. Why do we not despair of a man who delays his conversion till the approach of death? Because that order, which constitutes the eminence of the Divine perfections, doth not allow that a sincere conversion, a conversion that reforms the sin and renews the sinner, should be rejected by God. Now we cannot absolutely deny the possibility of a sincere death-bed conversion for the following reasons.

3. It is true God’s thoughts are not our thoughts; and it is possible that the approach of death may make deeper impressions on you than either sermons or pious books have made: but yet our God is a consuming fire. What a time is a dying illness for the receiving of such impressions! Ah! what obstacles! What a world of obstacles oppose such extravagant hopes and justify the efforts of those who endeavor to destroy them! Here is business that must be settled; a will which must be made; a number of articles that must be discussed; there are friends who must be embraced. There the illness increaseth, pains multiply, agonies convulse, the whole soul, full of intolerable sensations, loseth the power of seeing and hearing, thinking and reflecting. It is true God’s thoughts are not our thoughts; and we have neither a sufficient knowledge of other people’s hearts, nor of our own, to affirm with certainty when their faculties are entirely contaminated: but yet our God is a consuming fire. We know men to whom the truth is become unintelligible, in consequence of the disguise in which they have taken the pains to clothe it, and who have accustomed themselves to palliate vice till they are become incapable of perceiving its turpitude. God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, it is true; and we have seen some examples of people who have proved, since their recovery, that they were truly converted in sickness, and on whose account we presume that others may possibly be converted by the same means: but yet our God is a consuming fire. How rare are these examples! Doth this require proof? Must we demonstrate it? Ye are our proofs; ye yourselves are our demonstrations. It is true God’s thoughts are not our thoughts; and God worketh miracles in religion as well as in nature: but yet our God is a consuming fire. Who can assure himself that, having abused common grace, he shall obtain extraordinary assistances? It is true God’s thoughts are not our thoughts: and there is nothing in the Holy Scriptures which inpowers us to shut the gates of heaven against a dying penitent; we have no authority to tell you that there is no more hope for you, but that ye are lost without remedy: but yet our God is a consuming fire. There are hundreds of passages in our Bibles which authorise us--what am I saying? there are hundreds of passages that command us--not to conceal anything from the criminal; there are hundreds of passages which empower and enjoin us to warn you, you who are fifty years of age, you who are sixty, you who are fourscore, that still to put off the work of your conversion is a madness, an excess of inflexibility and indolence, which all the flames of hell can never expiate. (J. Saurin.)

Divine love is fire

I. Fire is UNIVERSAL, and God’s love is everywhere--the life of all the living, the beauty of all the beautiful, the blessedness of all the blest.

II. Fire INFLICTS PAIN. And a flash of Divine love on a guilty conscience enkindles a hell.

III. Fire CREATES STORMS. And all the moral tempests in the universe have their origin in Divine love.

IV. Fire is PERPETUALLY ACTIVE. SO is Divine love--creating, sustaining, and directing all things.

V. Fire has a DEVOURING CAPABILITY. Divine love burns up falsehoods, wrongs, and all the ten thousand forms of sins.

VI. Fire has the POWER TO CHANGE ALL THINGS INTO ITS OWN NATURE. So Divine love will turn all human souls into love one day. Evil cannot remain evil for ever before it. (Homilist.)

God a consuming fire:

Because God doth not always show Himself in the likeness of fire, a terrible God, pouring down the coals of His wrath upon us, because He beareth with us, and doth not by and by punish us for our sins, we think we may condemn Him, we may serve Him as we list, any service will content Him. Ay, but remember likewise that our God is a consuming fire. It is long, peradventure, before a fire breaks forth; iS may lie lurking a great while and not be seen; but if it begin to flame, to set upon a town, without great prevention it will burn up the whole town. So God is patient, His wrath is long a-kindling; but if we provoke Him too much, He will break forth as a fire and consume us all. He is a fearful God with whom we have to deal, therefore let us serve Him with fear and reverence, in holiness and righteousness all our days, that we may not only avoid this fire, but enjoy the light of the heavenly Jerusalem for ever. (W. Jones, D. D.)

God a consuming fire:

This is one of the shortest texts in the Bible. It takes rank with those other three brief sentences which declare the nature of God: God is Light, God is Love, God is Life. But to many it is one of the most awful sayings in the whole of Scripture. It rankles in the memory; recurs continually to the uneasy conscience; and rings its wild tocsin of alarm in the ear of the anxious inquirer. And yet there is an aspect in which it may be viewed which will make it one of the most comforting, precious passages in the whole range of inspiration.

I. OUR GOD IS A CONSUMING FIRE AND THERE IS TERROR IN THE SYMBOL. But the terror is reserved for those who unceasingly and persistently violate His laws and despise His love. Sin is no light matter. In this world even it is fearfully avenged. Walk through certain wards in our hospitals, and tell me if anything could exceed the horror, the agony, or the penalty which is being inflicted on those who have flagrantly violated the laws of nature. And so far as we can see the physical penalties which follow upon wrong-doing are not unto life and restoration, but unto death and destruction. It is necessary that these sufferings should be veiled from the eye of man, but surely they must be taken into account, when we estimate God’s treatment of sin. And if such pain, keen as fire, consumes those who violate physical law, surely we must admit that there is a still more awful doom for those who violate the laws of God’s love and grace and pleading mercy.

II. OUR GOD IS A CONSUMING FIRE AND THERE IS COMFORT AND BLESSING IN THE THOUGHT. When we yield to God’s love, and open our hearts to Him, He enters into us, and becomes within us a consuming fire, not to ourselves, but to the evil within us. So that, in a very deep and blessed sense, we may be said to dwell with the devouring fire, and to walk amid the eternal burnings.

1. Fire is warmth. We talk of ardent desire, warm emotion, enthusiasm’s glow and fire; and when we speak of God being within us as fire, we mean that He will produce in us a strong and constant affection to Himself. 2.. Fire is light. We are dark enough in our natural state, but when God comes into the tabernacle of our being, the shekinah begins to glow in the most holy place; and pours its waves of glory throughout the whole being, so that the face is suffused with a holy glow, and there is an evident elasticity and buoyancy of spirits which no world-joy can produce or even imitate.

3. Fire is purity. “How long, think you, would it take a workman with hammer and chisel to get the ore from the rocks in which it lies so closely embedded? But if they are flung into the great cylinder, and the fires fanned to torrid heat, and the draught roars through the burning mass, at nightfall the glowing stream of pure and fluid metal, from which all dross and rubbish are parted, flows into the waiting mould.” This is a parable of what God will do for us. Nay, more, He will burn up the wood, hay, and stubble, the grit and dross, the selfishness and evil of our nature, so that at last only the gold and silver and precious stones shall remain. The bonds that fetter us will be consumed, but not a hair of our heads shall fall to the ground. (M. B.Meyer, B. A.)

God as fire:

As regards the use of fire as a symbol in Holy Scripture, while it is true that it often represent the punitive wrath of God, it is equally certain that it has not always this meaning. Quite as often it is the symbol of God’s purifying energy and might. Fire was not the symbol of Jehovah’s vengeance in the burning bush. When the Lord is represented as sitting “ as a refiner and a purifier of silver,” surely the thought is not of vengeance, but of purifying mercy. We should rather say that fire, in Scripture usage, is the symbol of the intense energy of the Divine nature, which continually acts upon every person and on everything, according to the nature of each person or thing; here conserving, there destroying; now cleansing, now consuming. The same fire which burns the wood, hay, and stubble purifies the gold and silver. (S. H. Kellogg, D. D.)

The beneficent becoming destruction

A glass inkstand was placed on the table so that the sun’s rays fell upon it. Brightly and cheerily, no doubt, they played upon its facets and angles; but that inkstand affected these beautiful sunbeams in such a way as to extract from them heat in sufficient force to set the table upon which it stood on fire, reducing it, and all it came in contact with, into ashes. What is there more beautiful than the sunbeams? How they cheer, and cherish, and inspire nature all around! Yet there are some objects which can convert this thing of beauty, and health, and life into a consuming fire. So there are moral characters which extract death out of life; transform the loving, life-giving gospel into an instrument of destruction; in short, cause the God of love to become to them a consuming fire. (A. J. Parry.)

Lightning as well as light

I am thankful that men do not now speak of the penalty of sin, as if, according to Foster, the Almighty “were a dreadful King of Furies, whose music is the cries of victims, and whose glory requires to be illustrated by the ruin of His creation.” We cannot speak in terms that are strong enough, or in tones that are pathetic enough, of the love of God in Christ. But he is unfaithful who, by silence or by speech, diminishes the sense of the evil of sin, and of the certainty and awfulness of the penalty that follows it. A representation of Jehovah as a Being of infinite good nature, whose Fatherly love is reduced to grandfatherly weakness, who cannot inflict pain and suffering, and who will easily overlook sin, is a false representation; it is contrary to well-known facts, it is oblivious of the greatness of the sacrifice of Christ. When I was in Naples I thought nothing could be more beautiful than that fine bay, with its clear blue waters, and its picturesque surroundings; but eight miles away there was Vesuvius, with the column of smoke ever resting on its summit, with the elements of destruction within it, and with the effects of its destructive power seen in Herculaneum and Pompeii near its base. So behind all the beautiful and attractive aspects of the gospel of grace there is the mount of blackness and darkness and tempest, which cannot be blotted out. There is death as well as life in the world; there are cemeteries as well as gardens, gaols as well as schools. Christ has not thrown the winnowing fan from His hand; there was lightning as well as light in His speech; words of doom came from the lips of Him who looked upon Jerusalem through tears. He teaches us that sin is not to be trifled with, and we preach Him as the deliverer “ from the wrath to come.” (James Owen.)

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Hebrews 12:4". The Biblical Illustrator. http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/hebrews-12.html. 1905-1909. New York.


Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, July 23rd, 2017
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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