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Bible Commentaries

A.W. Pink's Commentary on John and Hebrews
Hebrews 13

 

 

Other Authors
Verse 1

Brotherly Love

( Hebrews 13:1)

Most of the commentators regard the final chapter of Hebrews as an appendix or postscript, containing sundry exhortations which have no direct relation to the body of the epistle. Personally, we regard it as a serious mistake, due to lack of perspicuity, to ignore the organic connection between the central theme of the apostle and the various duties which he here inculcates; rather do we agree with Owen that in these closing verses there is exhibited an exemplification of "that Divine wisdom wherewith he was actuated in writing of the whole, which the apostle Peter refers to in 2Peter " The more an anointed mind meditates on this fact, with the faith and reverence which the Holy Scriptures call for, the more will the Divine inspiration of this portion be revealed. It is a great pity that so many writers become slack when they reach the final chapter of an epistle, seeming to imagine that its contents are of less importance and value than those of the earlier ones.

Unless we carefully bear in mind the order which the apostle was moved by the Holy Spirit to follow in this treatise, we shall fail to learn some most vital and valuable lessons concerning the proper method and manner of setting forth the Truth of God before the souls of men. Not only is the teacher of God's Word to hold fast the system of doctrine contained therein (introducing no speculations of his own), to preserve a due balance of Truth (not allowing personal preference to make him a hobbyist), but in order for his ministry to be most acceptable to God and profitable to his hearers or readers he must adhere strictly to the order of Scripture; for if the context and connections of a passage be ignored, there is great danger of perverting it, for its proper emphasis is then lost and the chain of Truth is broken. Let preachers especially attend closely to the remarks which follow.

A careful reading through of our epistle at a single sitting will reveal the fact that throughout the first twelve chapters not a single moral or ecclesiastical duty is inculcated. It is true that here and there the apostle breaks in upon the orderly development of his thesis, by urging an exhortation unto obedience to God and perseverance in the faith, or by interspersing a solemn warning against the fatal consequences of apostasy; nevertheless, never once does he formally press upon the Hebrews any of the duties enjoined by the second table of the Law—those were reserved for his closing words. The course followed by the apostle was, first, to set forth the glorious person, offices, and work of Christ, and then, having laid a firm foundation for faith and obedience, to exhort unto evangelical and moral duties. As we deem this a most essential consideration we subjoin a paragraph from that master exegete, John Owen.

"He prescribes by his own example, as he also doth in most of his other epistles, the true order and method of preaching the Gospel; that Isaiah , first, to declare the mysteries of it, with the grace of God therein, and then to improve it unto practical duties of obedience. And they will be mistaken, who in this work propose unto themselves any other method; and those most of all, who think one part of it enough without the other. For as the declaration of spiritual truths, without showing how they are the vital quickening form of obedience, and without the application of them thereunto, tends only unto that knowledge which puffeth up, but doth not edify; so the pressing of moral duties, without a due declaration of the grace of God in Christ Jesus, which alone enables us unto them, and renders them acceptable unto God, with their necessary dependence thereon, is but to deceive the souls of men, and lead them out of the way and off from the Gospel."

The Divine mysteries unfolded and the great doctrines expounded in the Holy Scriptures are not mere abstractions addressed to the intellect, devoid of valuable fruits and effects: where they are truly received into the soul and there mixed with faith, they issue, first, in the heart being spiritually molded thereby and drawn out God-wards, and second, they issue in practical results Prayer of Manasseh -ward. If the Gospel makes known the infinite love and amazing grace of God in Christ, it also directs unto the performance of spiritual and moral duties. So far from the Gospel freeing believers from the duties required by the Law, it lays upon us additional obligations, directs to their right performance, and supplies new and powerful motives to their discharge.

So much, then, for the general relation of the contents of Hebrews 13to what has preceded it; now for the more specific connection. So far from there being a radical break between Hebrews 12,13the closing verses of the former and the opening ones of the latter are closely linked together. There the apostle had mentioned the principal duties which believers are to perform God-wards, namely, to "hear" (verse 25) and to "serve Him acceptably" (verse 28); here, he tabulates those duties which are to be performed Prayer of Manasseh -wards. He begins with what is really the sum and substance of all the rest, brotherly love: first, the loving of God with all our heart, and then our neighbor as ourselves. Adolph Saphir pointed out another link of connection which is not so evident at first sight: having just reminded the Hebrews that "things that are made" shall be shaken and removed ( Hebrews 12:27), he now exhorts them to "let that abide which is of God, which is eternal, even love."

"Let brotherly love continue" (). The first application in the case of the Hebrews would be, See to it that your having become Christians does not make you behave in a less kindly manner unto your brethren according to the flesh, the Jews. True, they are occasioning great provocation by their enmity and persecution, yet this does not warrant your retaliating in a like spirit, rather does it provide opportunity for the exercise and manifestation of Divine grace. Remember the example left by your Master: the Jews treated Him most vilely, yet He bore patiently their revilings; yea continued to seek their good—then do you follow His steps. Most blessedly did the writer of this epistle emulate his Lord, and practice what he here inculcated: see Romans 9:1-3,10:1.

This lower application of our text holds good for any of us who may, in our measure, be circumstanced similarly to the Hebrews. Since yielding ourselves to the claims of the Lord Jesus, our relations and friends may have turned against us, and, stirred up by Satan, are now opposing, annoying, ill-treating us. In such a case the word comes to us "Let brotherly love continue." Avenge not yourself: answer not railing with railing: but exercise a spirit of true benevolence, desiring and seeking only their good. "If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good" ( Romans 12:20 , 21).

"Let brotherly love continue." The higher reference Isaiah , of course, to that special and spiritual affection which is to be cultivated between and among God's children. "He calls love brotherly, not only to teach us that we ought to be mutually united together by a peculiar and inward feeling of love, but also that we may remember that we cannot be Christians without loving the brethren, for he speaks of the love which the Household of Faith ought to cultivate one towards another, as the Lord has bound them closely together by the common bond of adoption" (John Calvin). Matthew Henry well pointed out, "the spirit of Christianity is a spirit of love." The fruit of the Spirit is love ( Galatians 5:22). Faith worketh by love ( Galatians 5:6). "Everyone that loveth Him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of Him" ( 1 John 5:1). Love to the brethren is both the first indication and fruit of the Christian life ( Acts 16:33) and the final aim and result of Divine grace ( 2 Peter 1:7).

It is to be noted that these Hebrew believers were not exhorted "let us have brotherly love," but "let brotherly love continue." Thus the apostle's language clearly supposes that they already had love for each other, that he approvingly notices the same, and then calls upon them for a continuance of it. Like his Master, Paul combines exhortation with commendation: let all His servants do so wherever possible. He had already reminded them "God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labor of love, which ye have showed toward His name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister" ( Hebrews 6:10); and "Ye endured a great fight of afflictions; partly whilst ye were made a gazingstock both by reproaches and afflictions; and partly, whilst ye became companions of them that were so used" ( Hebrews 10:32 , 33). But the apostle felt there was danger of their brotherly love decaying, for there were disputes among them concerning the ceremonies of the Mosaic law, and wrangling over religious differences bodes ill for the health of spiritual affection. He therefore puts them on their guard, and bids them live and love as "brethren."

"A love hath its foundation in relation. Where there is relation, there is love, or there ought so to be; and where there is no relation, there can be no love, properly so called. Hence it is here mentioned with respect unto a brotherhood... This brotherhood is religious: all believers have one Father ( Matthew 23:8 ,9), one elder Brother ( Romans 8:29), who is not ashamed to call them brethren ( Hebrews 2:11); have one spirit, and are called in one hope of calling ( Ephesians 4:4), which being a spirit of adoption interesteth them all in the same family ( Ephesians 3:14 , 15)"—John Owen. Brotherly love we would define as that gracious bond which knits together the hearts of God's children; or more definitely, it is that spiritual and affectionate solicitude which Christians have toward each other, manifested by a desiring and endeavoring after their highest mutual interests.

This duty was enjoined upon His disciples by the Lord Jesus: "A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another" ( John 13:34). It was to this word of Christ that His apostle referred in "Brethren, I write no new commandment unto you, but old commandment which ye had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which ye have heard from the beginning. Again, a new commandment I write unto you, which thing is true in Him and in you" ( 1 John 2:7 , 8 and cf 3:11). Some have been puzzled by his "I write no new commandment unto you... Again, a new commandment I write unto you," yet the seeming ambiguity is easily explained. When a statute is renewed under another administration of government it is counted a "new" one. So it is in this case. That which was required by the Law ( Leviticus 19:18) is repeated by the Gospel ( John 15:12), so that absolutely speaking it is not a new, but an old commandment. Yet relatively, it is "new," because enforced by new motives ( 1 John 3:16) and a new Pattern ( 1 John 4:10 , 11). Thus, "Let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith" ( Galatians 6:10), because the latter have peculiar claims upon our affections, being created in the same image, professing the same faith, and having the same infirmities.

The maintenance of brotherly love tends in various ways to the spiritual blessing of the Church, the honor of the Gospel, and the comfort of believers. The exercise thereof is the best testimony to the world of the genuineness of our profession. The cultivation and manifestion of Christian affection between the people of God is a far more weighty argument with unbelievers than any apologetics. Believers should conduct themselves toward each other in such a way that no button or pin is needed to label them as brethren in Christ. "By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another" ( John 13:35). It should be made quite evident that their hearts are knit together by a bond more intimate, spiritual, and enduring than any which mere nature can produce. Their deportment unto each other should be such as not only to mark them as fellow disciples, but as Christ says, "My disciples"—reflecting His love!

The exercise of brotherly love in not only a testimony unto the world, but it is also an evidence to Christians themselves of their regeneration: "We know that we have passed from death unto life because we love the brethren" ( 1 John 3:14). There should be a word of comfort here for those poor saints whose souls are cast down. At present they cannot "read their title clear to mansions in the sky," and are afraid to cry "Abba, Father" lest they be guilty of presumption. But here is a door of hope opened to Christ's little ones: you may, dear reader, be afraid to affirm that you love God, but do you not love His people? If you do, you must have been born again, and have in you the same spiritual nature which is in them. But do I love them? Well, do you relish their company, admire what you see of Christ in them, wish them well, pray for them, and seek their good? If Song of Solomon , you certainly love them.

But not only is the exercise of Christian love a testimony unto the world of our Christian discipleship, and a sure evidence of our own regeneration, but it is also that which delights God Himself. Of course it does! It is the product of His own grace: the immediate fruit of His Spirit. "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!" ( Psalm 133:1) is what the Lord Himself declares. This also comes out very sweetly in Revelation 3. There we find one of the epistles addressed to the seven churches which are in Asia, namely, the Philadelphian, the church of "brotherly love," for that is the meaning of the word "Philadelphia," and in that epistle there are no censures or rebukes: there was that there which refreshed the heart of the Lord!

But our text refers not so much to the existence and exercise of brotherly love, as it does to its maintenance: "Let brotherly love continue" or "abide constant" as some render it, for the word includes the idea of enduring in the face of difficulties and temptations. That which is enjoined is perseverance in a pure and unselfish affection toward fellow-Christians. Brotherly love is a tender plant which requires much attention: if it be not watched and watered, it quickly wilts. It is an exotic, for it is not a native of the soil of fallen human nature—"hateful and hating one another" ( Titus 3:3) is a solemn description of what we were in our unregenerate state. Yes, brotherly love is a very tender plant and quickly affected by the cold air of unkindness, easily nipped by the frost of harsh words. If it is to thrive, it must needs be carefully protected and diligently cultivated.

"Let brotherly love continue:" what a needful word is this! It was so at the beginning, and therefore did the Lord God make it a fundamental in man's duty: "thou shalt love try neighbor as thyself." O what strife and bloodshed, suffering and sorrow had been avoided, had this commandment been universally heeded. But alas, sin has domineered and dominated, and where sin is regnant love is dormant. If we wish to obtain a better idea of what sin is then contrast it with its opposite—God. Now God is spirit ( John 4:24), God is light ( 1 John 1:5), God is love ( 1 John 4:8); whereas sin is fleshly, sin is darkness, sin is hatred. But if we have enlisted under the banner of Christ we are called unto a warfare against sin: against fleshliness, against hatred. Then "let brotherly love continue."

Yes, a most needful exhortation is this: not only because hatred so largely sways the world, but also because of the state of Christendom. Two hundred and fifty years ago John Owen wrote, "It (brotherly love) Isaiah , as unto its luster and splendor, retired to Heaven, abiding in its power and efficacious exercise only in some comers of the earth. Envy, wrath, selfishness, love of the world, with coldness in all the concerns of religion, have possessed the place of it. And in vain shall men wrangle and contend about their differences in faith and worship, pretending to design the advancement of religion by an imposition of their persuasions on others: unless this holy love be again Revelation -introduced among all those who profess the name of Christ, all the concerns of religion will more and more run into ruin. The very name of a brotherhood amongst Christians is a matter of scorn and reproach, and all the consequents of such a relation are despised."

Nor are things any better today. O how little is brotherly love in evidence, generally speaking, among professing Christians. Is not that tragic word of Christ receiving its prophetic fulfillment: "because iniquitiy shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold" ( Matthew 24:12). But, my reader, Christ's love has not changed, nor should oars: "Having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end" ( John 13:1). Alas, have not all of us reason to hang our heads in shame! Such an exhortation as this is most needful today when there is such a wide tendency to value light more highly than love, to esteem an understanding of the mysteries of Faith above the drawing out our affections unto each other. Here is a searching question which each of us should honestly face: Is my love for the brethren keeping pace with my growing (intellectual) knowledge of the Truth?

"Let brotherly love continue." What a humbling word is this! One had thought that those bound together by such intimate ties, fellow-members of the Body of Christ, would spontaneously love each other, and make it their constant aim to promote their interests. Ah, my reader, the Holy Spirit deemed it requisite to call upon us to perform this duty. What sort of creatures are we that still require to be thus exhorted! How this ought to hide pride from us: surely we have little cause for self-complacency when we need bidding to love one another! "Hateful and hating one another" ( Titus 3:3): true, that was in our unregenerate days, nevertheless the root of that "hatred" still remains in the believer, and unless it be judged and mortified will greatly hinder the maintenance and exercise of Christian affection.

"Let brotherly love continue." What a solemn word is this! Is the reader startled by that adjective?—a needful and humbling one, but scarcely a "solemn." Ah, have we forgotten the context? Look at the verse which immediately precedes, and remember that when this epistle was first written there were no chapter-breaks: ,13:1 read consecutively, without any hiatus—"our God is a consuming fire: let brotherly love continue!" The fact these two verses are placed in immediate juxtaposition strikes a most solemn note. Go back in your mind to the first pair of brothers who ever walked this earth: did "brotherly love continue" with them? Far otherwise: Cain hated and murdered his brother. And did not he find our God to be "a consuming fire"? Most assuredly he did, as his own words testify, "My punishment is greater than I can bear" ( Genesis 4:13)—the wrath of God burned in his conscience, and he had a fearful foretaste of Hell before he went there.

But it may be objected to what has just been said, The case of Cain and Abel is scarcely a pertinent and appropriate one, for they were merely natural brothers where as the text relates primarily to those who are brethren spiritually. True, but the natural frequently adumbrates the spiritual, and there is much in Genesis 4which each Christian needs to take to heart. However, let us pass on down the course of human history a few centuries. Were not Abraham and Lot brethren spiritually? They were: then did brotherly love continue between them? It did not: strife arose between their herdsmen, and they separated ( Genesis 13). Lot preferred the well-watered plains and a home in Sodom to fellowship with the father of the faithful. And what was the sequel? Did he find that "our God is a consuming fire"? Witness the destruction of all his property in that city when God rained down fire and brimstone from heaven!—another solemn warning is that for us.

"Let brotherly love continue." But what a gracious word is this! Consider its implications: are they not similar to "walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love" ( Ephesians 4:1 , 2)? That means we are to conduct ourselves not according to the dictates of the flesh, but according to the requirements of grace. If grace has been shown toward me, then surely I ought to be gracious to others. But that is not always easy: not only has the root of "hatred" been left in me, but the "flesh" still remains in my brethren! and there will be much in them to test and try my love, otherwise there would be no need for this exhortation "forbearing one another in love." God has wisely so ordered this that our love might rise above the mere amiability of nature. We are not merely to govern our tempers, act courteously, be pleasant to one another, but bear with infirmities and be ready to forgive a slight: "Love suffereth long, and is kind" ( 1 Corinthians 13:4).

"Let brotherly love continue." What a comprehensive word is this! Had we the ability to fully open it and space to bring out all that is included, it would be necessary to quote a large percentage of the precepts of Scripture. If brotherly love is to continue then we must exhort one another daily, provoke unto good works, minister to each other in many different ways. It includes far more than dwelling together in peace and harmony, though unless that be present, other things cannot follow. It also involves a godly concern for each other: see Leviticus 19:17,1John 5:2. It also embraces our praying definitely for each other. Another practical form of it is to write helpful spiritual letters to those now at a distance from us: you once enjoyed sweet converse together, but Providence has divided your paths: well, keep in touch via the post! "Let brotherly love continue."

"Let brotherly love continue." What a forcible word is this, by which we mean, it should drive all of us to our knees! We are just as dependent upon the Holy Spirit to call forth love into action as we are our faith: not only toward God, but toward each other—"The Lord direct your hearts into the love of God" ( 2 Thessalonians 3:5). Observe the forcible emphasis Christ placed upon this precept in His paschal discourse: "A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another" ( John 13:34). Ah, but the Savior did not deem that enough: "This is My commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you" ( John 15:12): why that repetition? Nor did that suffice: "These things I command you, that ye love one another" ( John 15:17). In an earlier paragraph we reminded the reader that the Philadelphian church is the church of "Brotherly love." Have you observed the central exhortation in the epistle addressed to that church: "Hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown"? ( Revelation 3:11).

"Let brotherly love continue." What a Divine word is this. The love which is here enjoined is a holy and spiritual one, made possible "because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit" ( Romans 5:5). For until then there is naught but hatred. Love for the brethren is a love for the image of God stamped upon their souls: "every one that loveth Him that begat, loveth him also that is begotten of Him" ( 1 John 5:1). No man can love another for the grace that is in his heart, unless grace be in his own heart. It is natural to love those who are kind and generous to us; it is supernatural to love those who are faithful and holy in their dealings with us.

"Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; forbearing one another and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any; even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on LOVE, which is the bond of perfectness" ( Colossians 3:12-14).


Verse 2-3

Brotherly Love

( Hebrews 13:1-3)

Brotherly love is that spiritual benevolence and affectionate solicitude which Christians have one toward another, desiring and seeking their highest interests. The varied characteristics of it are beautifully delineated in 1Corinthians 13. In the opening verse of Hebrews 13the apostle exhorts unto the maintenance of the same, "Let brotherly love continue." Negatively, that means, Let us be constantly on our guard against those things which are likely to interrupt its flow. Positively, it signifies, Let us be diligent in employing those means which are calculated to keep it in a healthy state. It is along these two lines that our responsibility here is to be discharged, and therefore it is of first importance that due heed be given thereto. We therefore propose to point out some of the main hindrances and obstacles to the continuance of brotherly love, and then mention some of the aids and helps to the furtherance of the same. May the blessed Spirit direct the writer's thoughts and give the reader to lay to heart whatever is of Himself.

The root hindrance to the exercise of brotherly love is self-love—to be so occupied with number one that the interests of others are lost sight of. In Proverbs 30:15 we read, "The horseleech hath two daughters crying Give, give." This repulsive creature has two forks in her tongue, which she employs for gorging herself in the blood of her unhappy victim. Spiritually the "horseleech" represents self-love and her two daughters are self-righteousness, and self-pity. As the horseleech is never satisfied, often continuing to gorge itself until it bursts, so self-love is never contented, crying "Give, give." All the blessings and mercies of God are perverted by making them to minister unto self. Now the antidote for this evil spirit is for the heart to be engaged with the example which Christ has left us. He came not to be ministered unto, but to minister unto others. He pleased not Himself, but ever "went about doing good." He was tireless in relieving distress and seeking the welfare of all with whom He came into contact. Then "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus" ( Philippians 2:5). If brotherly love is to continue self must be denied.

Inseparably connected with self-love is pride, and the fostering of pride is fatal to the cultivation of brotherly affection. The majority, if not all, of the petty grievances among Christians, are to be traced back to this evil root. "Love suffereth long," but pride is terribly impatient. "Love envieth not," but pride is intensely jealous. "Love seeketh not her own," but pride ever desires gratification. "Love seeketh not her own," but pride demands constant attention from others. "Love beareth all things," but pride is resentful of the slightest injury. "Love endureth all things," but pride is offended if a brother fails to greet him on the street. Pride must be mortified if brotherly love is to flourish. Therefore the first injunction of Christ to those who come unto Him for rest Isaiah , "Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart."

Another great enemy to brotherly love is a sectarian spirit, and this evil is far more widespread than many suppose. Our readers would be surprised if they knew how often a sample copy of this magazine is despised by those who have a reputation for being stalwarts in the Faith and as possessing a relish for spiritual things, yet because this paper is not issued by their denomination or "circle of fellowship" it is at once relegated to the waste-paper basket. Alas, how frequently is a spirit of partisanship mistaken for brotherly love: so long as a person "believes our doctrines" and is willing to "join our church," he is received with open arms. On the other hand, no matter how sound in the faith a man may be, nor how godly his walk, if he refuses to affiliate himself with some particular group of professing Christians, he is looked upon with suspicion and given the cold shoulder. But such things ought not to be: they betray a very low state of spirituality.

We are far from advocating the entering into familiar fellowship with every one who claims to be a Christian—Scipture warns us to "lay hands suddenly on no man" ( 1 Timothy 5:22), for all is not gold that glitters; and perhaps there never was a day in which empty profession abounded so much as it does now. Yet there is a happy medium between being taken in by every impostor who comes along, and refusing to believe that there are any genuine saints left upon earth. Surely a tree may be known by its fruits. When we meet with one in whom we can discern the image of Christ, whether that one be a member of our party or not, there should our affections be fixed. "Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us, to the glory of God" ( Romans 15:7): it is our bounden duty to love all whom Christ loves, It is utterly vain that we boast of our orthodoxy or of the "light" we have, if brotherly love be not shown by us to the feeblest member of Christ's body who crosses our path.

There are many other things which are serious obstacles to the maintenance of brotherly love, yet we must not do more than barely mention them: the love of the world; failure to mortify the lusts of the flesh in our souls; being unduly wrapt up in the members of our own family, so that those related to us by the blood of Christ have not that place in our affections which they ought; ignorance of the directions in which it should be exercised and of the proper duties which it calls for; forgetfulness of the foundation of it, which is a mutual interest in the grace of God, that we are fellow-members of the Household of Faith; a readiness to listen to idle gossip, which in most instances, is a "giving place to the Devil," who accuses the brethren day and night. But there is one other serious hindrance to the continuance of brotherly love which we will notice in a little more detail, namely, impatience.

By impatience we mean a lack of forbearance. True brotherly love is a reflection of God's love for us, and He loves His people not for their native attractiveness, but for Christ's sake; and therefore does He love them in spite of their ugliness and vileness. God is "longsuffering to us-ward" ( 2 Peter 3:9), bearing with our crookedness, pardoning our iniquities, healing our diseases, and His word to us Isaiah , "Be ye therefore followers (emulators) of God, as dear children, and walk in love" ( Ephesians 5:1 , 2). We are to love the saints for what we can see of Christ in them; yes, love them, and for that reason—in spite of all their ignorance, perverseness, ill-temper, obstinacy, fretfulness. It is the image of God in them not their wealth, amiability, social position—which is the magnet that attracts a renewed heart toward them.

"Forbearing one another in love" ( Ephesians 4:2). False love is glad of any specious excuse for throwing off the garb that sits so loosely and uncomfortably upon it. Ahitophel was glad of a pretext to forsake David, whom he hated in his heart, although with his mouth he continued to show much love. "Forbearing one another in love:" that love which a little silence or neglect can destroy never came from God, that love which a few blasts of malice from the lips of a new acquaintance will wither, is not worth possessing! Remember, dear brother, God suffers our love for one another to be tried and tested—-as He does our faith—or there would be no need for this exhortation "forbearing one another in love." The most spiritual Christian on earth is full of infirmities, and the best way of enduring them is to frequently and honestly remind yourself that you also are full of faults and failings.

John Owen pointed out that there are certain occasions (in addition to the causes we have mentioned above) of the decay and loss of brotherly love. "1. Differences in opinion and practice about things in religion (unless these be of a vital nature they should not be allowed to affect our love for each other, A.W.P.). 2. Un-suitableness of natural tempers and inclinations 3. Readiness to receive a sense of appearing provocations 4. Different and sometimes inconsistent secular interests 5. An abuse of spiritual gifts, by pride on the one hand, or envy on the other 6. Attempts for domination, inconsistent in a fraternity; which are all to be watched against."

We sincerely trust that the reader is not becoming weary of our lengthy exposition of Hebrews 13:1: the subject of which it treats is of such deep practical importance that we feel one more aspect of it requires to be considered. We shall therefore elaborate a little on some of the sub-headings which Owen mentioned under the means of its preservation. First, "An endeavor to grow and thrive in the principle of it, or the power of adopting grace." The three principal graces—faith, hope, love—can only thrive in a healthy soul. Just so far as personal piety wanes will brotherly love deteriorate. If close personal communion with Christ be neglected, then there can be no real spiritual fellowship with His people. Unless, then, my heart be kept warm in the love of God, affection toward my brethren is sure to decay. Second, "A deep sense of the weight or moment of this duty, from the especial instruction and command of Christ." Only as the heart is deeply impressed by the vital importance of the maintenance of brotherly love will serious and constant efforts be made thereunto.

Third, "Of the trial which is connected thereunto, of the sincerity of our grace and the truth of our sanctification, for ‘by this we know we have passed from death unto life.'" This is indeed a weighty consideration: if Christians were more concerned to obtain proof of their regeneration, they would devote far closer attention to the cultivation of brotherly love, which is one of the chief evidences of the new birth ( 1 John 3:14). If I am at outs with my brethren and am unconcerned about their temporal and eternal interests, then I have no right to regard myself as a child of God. Fourth, "A due consideration of the use, yea, the necessity of this duty to the glory of God, and edification of the church." The greater concern we really have for the manifestative glory of God in this world, the more zealous shall we be in seeking to promote the same by the increase of brotherly love in our self and among the saints: the glory of God and the welfare of His people are inseparably bound together.

Fifth, "Of that breach of union, loss of peace, discord and confusion, which must and will ensue on the neglect of it." Serious indeed are the consequences of a decay of brotherly love, yea, fatal if the disease be not arrested. Therefore does it behoove each of us to honestly and seriously face the question, How far is my lack of brotherly love contributing unto the spiritual decline in Christendom today? Sixth, "Constant watchfulness against all those vicious habits of mind, in self-love, love of the world, which are apt to impair it." If that be faithfully attended to, it will prove one of the most effectual of all the means for the cultivation of this grace. Seventh, "Diligent heed that it be not impaired in its vital acts: such as are patience, forbearance, readiness to forgive, unaptness to believe evil, without which no other duties of it will be long continued. Eighth, fervent prayer for supplies of grace enabling thereunto."

After the opening exhortation of Hebrews 13—which is fundamental to the discharge of all mutual Christian duties—the Holy Spirit through the apostle proceeds to point out some of the ways in which the existence and continuance of brotherly love are to be evidenced. "Be not forgetful to entertain strangers" (verse 2). Here is the first instance given, among sundry particulars, in which the greatest of all the Christian graces is to be exemplified. The duty which is inculcated is that of Christian hospitality. That which was commanded under the old covenant is repeated under the new: "But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God" ( Leviticus 19:34 and cf. Deuteronomy 10:19 , etc.). The Greek worn for "entertain" is rendered "lodge" in Acts 10:18 , 23 , and Acts 28:7.

There was a special urgency for pressing this duty by the apostles, arising from the persecution of the Lord's people in different places, which resulted in their being driven from their own homes and forced to seek a refuge abroad. "At that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles" ( Acts 8:1)—some traveled as far as "Phenice and Cyprus and Antioch" ( Acts 11:19). Therein did they obey the direction of Christ's that "when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another" ( Matthew 10:23), removing to other parts where, for the present, peace obtained; for the providence of God so directs things it is very rare that persecution prevails universally—hence some places of quiet retirement are generally available, at least for a season. Yet this being forced to leave their own habitations required them to seek refuge among strangers, and this it is which gives point to our present exhortation.

Moreover "at that time there were sundry persons, especially of the converted Hebrews , who went up and down from one city, yea, one nation, unto another, on their own charges, to preach the Gospel. They went forth for the sake of Christ, taking nothing of the Gentiles unto whom they preached ( 3 John 7); and these were only brethren, and not officers of any church. The reception, entertainment, and assistance of these when they came unto any church or place as strangers, the apostle celebrates and highly commends in his well-beloved Gaius ( 3 John 5 , 6). Such as these, when they came to them as strangers, the apostle recommends unto the love and charity of the Hebrews in a peculiar manner. And he who is not ready to receive and entertain such persons, will manifest how little concern he hath in the Gospel or the glory of Christ Himself" (John Owen).

Though circumstances have altered (for the moment, for none can say how soon the restraining hand of God may be partly withdrawn and His enemies allowed to shed the blood of His people once more—such is even now the case in some parts of the earth), yet the principle of this injunction is still binding on all who bear the name of Christ. Not only are our hearts, but our homes as well, to be opened unto such as are really needy: "distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality" ( Romans 12:13). An eminent and spiritual scholar points out that "the original word hath respect not so much to the exercise of the duty itself, as to the disposition, readiness, and frame of mind which is required in it and to it. Hence the Syriac renders it ‘the love of strangers,' and that properly; but it is of such a love as is effectual, and whose proper exercise consists in the entertainment of them, which is the proper effect of love towards them."

In Eastern countries, where they traveled almost barefoot, the washing of the feet ( 1 Timothy 5:10), as well as the setting before them of food and giving lodgment for the night, would be included. The word for "strangers" is not found in the Greek: literally it reads "of hospitality not be forgetful"—be not unmindful of, grow not slack in, the discharge of this duty. It is to be observed that one of the necessary qualifications of a bishop is that he must be "a lover of hospitality" ( Titus 1:8). Just as worldings delight in entertaining their relatives and friends, so the Lord's people should be eager and alert to render loving hospitality to homeless or stranded Christians, and as 1Peter 4:9 says "use hospitality one to another without grudging." The same applies, of course, to entertaining in our homes traveling servants of God—rather than sending them to some hotel to mingle with the ungodly.

"Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares" (verse 2). The second clause is to be regarded as supplying a motive for the discharge of this duty of Christian hospitality. Needless to say these added words do not signify that we may expect, literally, to receive a similar honor, but it is mentioned for the purpose of supplying encouragement. The apostle here reminds us that in former days some had been richly rewarded for their diligent observance of this duty, for they had been granted the holy privilege of receiving angels under the appearance of men. How this consideration enforces our exhortation is apparent: had there not been a readiness of mind unto this, a spirit of real hospitality in their hearts, they had neglected the opportunity with which Divine grace so highly favored them. Let us, then, seek to cultivate the virtue of generosity: "the liberal deviseth liberal things" ( Isaiah 32:8).

"For thereby some have entertained angels unawares." The special reference, no doubt, is unto the cases of Abraham ( Genesis 18:1-3) and of Lot ( Genesis 19:1-3). We say "special reference" for the use of the plural "some" is sufficient to bar us from ascribing it to them alone, exclusively of all others. It is quite likely that in those ancient times, when God so much used the ministry of angels unto His saints, that others of them shared the same holy privilege. The real point for us in this allusion is that the Lord will be no man's debtor, that He honors those who honor Him—whether they honor Him directly, or indirectly in the persons of His people. "For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labor of love, which ye have showed toward His name, in that ye have ministered to the saints and do minister" ( Hebrews 6:10). This too is recorded for our encouragement and when we have discharged the duty (as opportunity afforded—for God accepts the will for the deed!), if in indigent circumstances we may plead this before Him.

The Scriptures are full of examples where the Spirit has joined together duty and privilege, obedience and reward. Whenever we comply with such commands, we may count upon God recompensing those who exercised kindness unto His people. The cases of Rebekah ( Genesis 24:18 , 19 , 22), of Potiphar ( Genesis 39:5), of the Egyptian midwives ( Exodus 2:17 , 20), of Rahab ( Joshua 6:25), of the widow of Zarephath ( 1 Kings 17:15 , 23), of the woman of Shunem ( 2 Kings 4:8), of the inhabitants of Melita ( Acts 28:2 , 8 , 9), all illustrate this. The resulting gains will more than repay any expense we incur in befriending the saints. Beautifully did Calvin point out that "not merely angels, but Christ Himself, is received by us, when we receive the poor of the flock in His name." Solemn beyond words is the warning of Matthew 25:41-43; but inexpressibly blessed is Matthew 25:34-36.

Compassion for the afflicted is the next thing exhorted unto: "Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them" (verse 3). Love to the brethren is to manifest itself in sympathy for sufferers. Most reprehensible and un-Christlike is that selfish callousness which says, I have troubles enough of my own without concerning myself over those of other people. Putting it on its lowest ground, such a spirit ministers no relief: the most effectual method of getting away from our own sorrows is to seek out and relieve others in distress. But nothing has a more beneficial tendency to counteract our innate selfishness than a compliance with such exhortations as the one here before us: to be occupied with the severer afflictions which some of our brethren are experiencing will free our minds from the lighter trials we may be passing through.

"Remember them that are in bonds." The immediate reference is unto those who had been deprived of their liberty for Christ's sake, who had been cast into prison. The "remember" signifies far more than to merely think of them, including all the duties which their situation called for. It means, first, feel for them, take to heart their case, have compassion toward them. Our great High Priest is touched with the feeling of their infirmities ( Hebrews 4:15), and so must we be. At best their food was coarse, their beds hard, and the ties which bound them to their families had been rudely sundered. Often they lay. cruelly fettered, in a dark and damp dungeon. They felt their situation, their confinement, their separation from wife and children; then identify yourself with them and have a feeling sense of what they suffer. "Remember," too, that but for the sovereignty of God, and His restraining hand, you would be in the same condition as they!

But more: "remember" them in your prayers. Intercede for them, seeking on their behalf grace from God, that they may meekly acquiesce to His providential dealings, that their sufferings may be sanctified to their souls, that the Most High will so overrule things that this Satanic opposition against some of His saints may yet issue in the extension of His kingdom. Finally, do unto them as you would wish them to do unto you were you in their place. If you can obtain permission, visit them ( Matthew 25:36), endeavor to comfort them, so far as practicable relieve their sufferings; and leave no stone unturned to seek their lawful release. Divine providence so regulates things that, as a rule, while some of the saints are in prison, others of them still enjoy their liberty—thus allowing an opportunity for the practical exercise of Christian sympathy.

"And them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body" (verse 3). There is probably a double reference here: first, to those who were not actually in prison, but who had been severely flogged, or were in sore straits because heavy fines had been imposed on them. Second, to the wives and children of those who had been imprisoned, and who would suffer keen adversity now that the breadwinners were removed from them. Such have a very real claim upon the sympathy of those who had escaped the persecutions of the foes of the Gospel. If you are not in a financial position to do much for them, then acquaint some of your richer brethren with their case and endeavor to stir them up to supply their needs. "As being yourselves also in the body" is a reminder that it may be your turn next to experience such opposition.

John Owen, who lived in particularly stormy times (the days of Bunyan), said, "Whilst God is pleased to give grace and courage unto some to suffer for the Gospel unto bonds, and to others to perform this duty towards them, the church will be no loser by suffering. When some are tried as unto their constancy in bonds, others are tried as unto their sincerity in the discharge of the duties required of them. And usually more fail in neglect of their duty towards sufferers, and so fall from their profession, than do so fail under and on the account of their sufferings." That the apostle Paul practiced what he preached is clear from "Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not?" ( 2 Corinthians 11:29). For illustrations of the discharge of these duties see Genesis 14:14 , Nehemiah 1:4 , Job 29:15 , 16 , Jeremiah 38:7 , etc. For solemn warnings read Job 19:14-16 , Proverbs 21:13 , Matthew 25:43 , James 2:13.

We need hardly say that the principles of verse 3are of general application at all times and to all cases of suffering Christians. The same is summed up in "Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ" ( Galatians 6:2). The sentiment of this verse has been beautifully expressed in the lines of that hymn so precious in its hallowed memories:

"Blest be the tie that binds

Our hearts in Christian love;

The fellowship of kindred minds

Is like to that above.

We share our mutual woes,

Our mutual burdens bear,

And often for each other flows

The sympathizing tear."

The Lord grant unto both writer and reader more of His grace so that we shall "Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep" ( Romans 12:15).


Verse 4

Marriage

( Hebrews 13:4)

From a prescription of duties towards others, the apostle next proceeds to give directions unto those which concern ourselves, wherein our own persons and walking are concerned. He does this in a prohibition of the two most radical and comprehensive lusts of corrupt nature, namely, uncleanness and covetousness: the first respecting the persons of men in a peculiar manner, the other their conversation or conduct. Acts of moral uncleanness are distinguishable from all other sins which are perpetrated in external Acts , in that they are immediately against a man's self and his own person (see 1Corinthians ), and therefore is chastity enforced under the means for preserving the same, that Isaiah , marriage; while the antidote for covetousness is given, namely, a spirit of contentment. The connection between Hebrews 13:4-6,13:1-3is obvious: unless uncleanness and covetousness be mortified there can be no real love exercised unto the brethren.

As God hath knit the bones and sinews together for the strengthening of our bodies, so He has ordained the joining of man and woman together in wedlock for the strengthening of their lives, for "two are better than one" ( Ecclesiastes 4:9); and therefore when God made the woman for the man He said, "I will make him a help meet for him" ( Genesis 2:18), showing that man is advantaged by having a wife. That such does not actually prove to be the case in all instances Isaiah , for the most part at least, to be attributed unto departure from the Divine precepts thereon. As this is a subject of such vital moment, we deem it expedient to present a fairly comprehensive outline of the teaching of Holy Writ upon it, especially for the benefit of our young readers; though we trust we shall be enabled to include that which will be helpful to older ones too.

It is perhaps a trite remark, yet none the less weighty for having been uttered so often, that with the one exception of personal conversion, marriage is the most momentous of all earthly events in the life of a man or woman. It forms a bond of union which binds them until death. It brings them into such intimate relations that they must either sweeten or embitter each other's existence. It entails circumstances and consequences which are not less far-reaching than the endless ages of eternity. How essential it Isaiah , then, that we should have the blessing of Heaven upon such a solemn yet precious undertaking; and in order to this, how absolutely necessary it is that we be subject to God and to His Word thereon. Far, far better to remain single unto the end of our days, than to enter into the marriage state without the Divine benediction upon it. The records of history and the facts of observation bear abundant testimony to the truth of that remark.

Even those who look no further than the temporal happiness of individuals and the welfare of existing society, are not insensible to the great importance of our domestic relations, which the strongest affections of nature secure, and which even our wants and weaknesses cement. We can form no conception of social virtue or felicity, yea, no conception of human society itself, which has not its foundation in the family. No matter how excellent the constitution and laws of a country may be, or how vast its resources and prosperity, there is no sure basis for social order, or public as well as private virtue, until it be laid in the wise regulation of its families. After all, a nation is but the aggregate of its families, and unless there be good husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, there cannot possibly be good citizens. Therefore the present decay of home life and family discipline threaten the stability of our nation today far more severely than does any foreign hostility.

But the Scriptural view of the relative duties of the members of a Christian household, portrays the prevailing effects in a most alarming manner, as being dishonoring to God, disastrous to the spiritual condition of the churches, and as raising up a most serious obstacle in the way of evangelical progress. Sad beyond words is it to see that professing Christians are themselves largely responsible for the lowering of marital standards, the general disregard of domestic relations, and the rapid disappearance of family discipline. As, then, marriage is the basis of the home or family, it is incumbent on the writer to summon his readers to a serious and prayerful consideration of the revealed will of God on this vital theme. Though we can hardly hope to arrest the awful disease which is now eating out the very vitals of our nation, yet if God is pleased to bless this article to a few individuals our labor will not be in vain.

We will begin by pointing out the exellency of wedlock: "Marriage is honorable:" says our text, and it is so first of all because God Himself has placed special honor upon it. All other ordinances or institutions (except the Sabbath) were appointed of God by the medium of men or angels ( Acts 7:35), but marriage was ordained immediately by the Lord Himself—no man or angel brought the first wife to her husband ( Genesis 2:22). Thus marriage had more Divine honor put upon it than had all the other Divine institutions, because it was directly solemnized by God Himself. Again; this was the first ordinance God instituted, yea, the first thing He did after man and woman were created, and that, while they were still in their unfallen state. Moreover, the place where their marriage occurred shows the honorableness of this institution: whereas all other institutions (save the Sabbath) were instituted outside of paradise, marriage was solemnized in Eden itself!—intimating how happy they are that marry in the Lord.

"God's crowning creative act was the making of woman. At the close of each creative day it is formally recorded that ‘God saw what He had made, that it was good.' But when Adam was made, it is explicitly recorded that ‘God saw it was not good that the man should be alone.' As to man the creative work lacked completeness, until, as all animals and even plants had their mates, there should be found for Adam also an help, meet for him—his counterpart and companion. Not till this want was met did God see the work of the last creative day also to be good.

"This is the first great Scripture lesson on family life, and it should be well learned... The Divine institution of marriage teaches that the ideal state of both man and woman is not in separation but in union, that each is meant and fitted for the other; and that God's ideal is such union, based on a pure and holy love, enduring for life, exclusive of all rivalry or other partnership, and incapable of alienation or unfaithfulness because it is a union in the Lord—a holy wedlock of soul and spirit in mutual sympathy and affection" (A.T. Pierson).

As God the Father honored the institution of marriage, so also did God the Son. First, by His being "born of a woman" ( Galatians 4:4). Second, by His miracles, for the first supernatural sign that He wrought was at the marriage of Cana in Galilee ( John 2:9), where He turned the water into wine, thereby intimating that if Christ be present at your wedding (i.e, if you "marry in the Lord") your life shall be a joyous or blessed one. Third, by His parables, for He compared the kingdom of God unto a marriage ( Matthew 22:2) and holiness to a "wedding garment" ( Matthew 22:11). So also in His teaching: when the Pharisees sought to ensnare Him on the subject of divorce, He set His imprimatur on the original constitution, adding "What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder" ( Matthew 19:4-6).

The institution of marriage has been still further honored by the Holy Spirit, for He has used it as a figure of the union which exists between Christ and the Church. "For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the Church" ( Ephesians 5:31 , 32). The relation which obtains between the Redeemer and the redeemed is likened, again and again, unto that which exists between a wedded man and woman: Christ is the "Husband" ( Isaiah 54:5), the Church is the "Wife" ( Revelation 21:9). "Turn, O backsliding children, saith the Lord, for I am married unto you" ( Jeremiah 3:14). Thus, each person of the blessed Trinity has set His seal upon the honorableness of the marriage state.

There is no doubt that in true marriage each party helps the other equally, and in view of what has been pointed out above, any who venture to hold or teach any other doctrine or philosophy join issue with the Most High. This does not lay down a hard and fast rule that every man and woman is obliged to enter into matrimony: there may be good and wise reasons for abiding alone, adequate motives for remaining in the single state—physical and moral, domestic and social. Nevertheless, a single life should be regarded as abnormal and exceptional, rather than ideal. Any teaching that leads men and women to think of the marriage bond as the sign of bondage, and the sacrifice of all independence, to construe wifehood and motherhood as drudgery and interference with woman's higher destiny, any public sentiment to cultivate celebacy as more desirable and honorable, or to substitute anything else for marriage and home, not only invades God's ordinance, but opens the door to nameless crimes and threatens the very foundations of society.

Now it is clear that marriage must have particular reasons for the appointment of it. Three are given in Scripture. First, for the propagation of children. This is its obvious and normal purpose: "So God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him: male and female created He them" ( Genesis 1:27)—not both males or both females, but one male and one female; and to make the design of this unmistakably plain God said, "Be fruitful and multiply." For this reason marriage is called "matrimony," which signifies motherage, because it results in virgins becoming mothers. Therefore it is desirable that marriage be entered into at an early age, before the prime of life be passed: twice in Scripture we read of "the wife of thy youth" ( Proverbs 5:18; Malachi 2:15). We have pointed out that the propagation of children is the "normal" end of marriage; yet there are special seasons of acute "distress" when 1Corinthians 7:29 holds good.

Second, marriage is designed as a preventive of immorality: "To avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband" ( 1 Corinthians 7:2). If any were exempted it might be supposed that kings would be given dispensation—be-cause of the lack of a successor to the throne should his wife be barren; yet the king is expressly forbidden a plurality of wives ( Deuteronomy 17:17), showing that the endangering of a monarchy is not sufficient to countervail the sin of adultery. For this cause a whore is termed a "strange woman" ( Proverbs 2:16), showing that she should be a stranger to us; and children born out of marriage are called "bastards," which (under the Law) were excluded from the congregation of the Lord ( Deuteronomy 23:2).

The third purpose of marriage is for the avoiding of the inconveniences of solitude, signified in the "it is not good that the man should be alone" ( Genesis 2:18: as though the Lord had said, This life would be irksome and miserable for man if no wife be given him for a companion: "Woe to him that is alone when he falleth, for he hath not another to help him up" ( Ecclesiastes 4:10). Someone has said, "like a turtle which has lost his mate, like one leg when the other is cut off, like one wing when the other is clipped, so had man been if woman had not been given to him." Therefore for mutual society and comfort God united man and woman that the cares and fears of this life might be eased by the cheer and help of each other.

Let us next consider the choice of our mate. First, the one selected for our life's partner must be outside those degrees of near kinship prohibited by the Divine law: Leviticus 18:6-17. Second, the Christian must wed a fellow Christian. From earliest times God has commanded that "the people shall dwell alone, and shall not be numbered among the nations" ( Numbers 23:9). His law unto Israel in connection with the Canaanites, was, "Neither shalt thou make marriages with them: thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his Song of Solomon , nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son" ( Deuteronomy 7:3 and cf. Joshua 23:12). How much more, then, must God require the separation of those who are His people by a spiritual and heavenly tie than those who occupied only a fleshly and earthly relation to Him. "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers" ( 2 Corinthians 6:14) is the clarion order to His saints of this dispensation. Partnership of any kind of one who is born again with one in a state of nature is here prohibited, as is evident from the terms used in the next verse—"fellowship, communion, concord, part, agreement."

There are but two families in this world: the children of God and the children of the Devil ( 1 John 3:10). If, then, a daughter of God marries a son of the Evil one she becomes a daughter-in-law to Satan! If a son of God marries a daughter of Satan, he becomes a Song of Solomon -in-law to the Devil! By such an infamous step an affinity is formed between one belonging to the most High and one belonging to His arch-enemy. "Strong language!" yes, but not too strong. O the dishonor done to Christ by such a union; O the bitter reaping from such a sowing. In every case it is the poor believer who suffers. Read the inspired histories of Samson, Song of Solomon , and Ahab, and see what followed their unholy alliances in wedlock. As well might an athlete attach to himself a heavy weight and then expect to win a race, as for one to progress spiritually after marrying a worldling.

Should any Christian reader be inclined or expect to become betrothed, the first question for him or her to carefully weigh in the Lord's presence Isaiah , Will this union be with an unbeliever? For if you are really cognizant of and heart and soul be impressed with the tremendous difference which God, in His grace, has put between you and those who are—however attractive in the flesh—yet in their sins, then you should have no difficulty in rejecting every suggestion and proposal of making common cause with such. You are "the righteousness of God" in Christ, but unbelievers are "unrighteous"; you are "light in the Lord," but they are darkness; you have been translated into the kingdom of God's dear Song of Solomon , but unbelievers are under the power of Belial; you are a son of peace, whereas all unbelievers are "children of wrath" ( Ephesians 2:3); therefore "be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean; and I will receive you" ( 2 Corinthians 6:17).

The danger of forming such an alliance is before marriage, or even betrothal, neither of which could be seriously entertained by any real Christian unless the sweetness of fellowship with the Lord had been lost. The affections must first be withdrawn from Christ before we can find delight in social intimacy with those who are alienated from God, and whose interests are confined to this world. The child of God who is "keeping his heart with all diligence" will not, cannot, have a joy in intimacies with the unregenerate. Alas, how often is the seeking or the accepting of close friendship with unbelievers the first step to open departure from Christ. The path which the Christian is called upon to tread is indeed a narrow one, but if he attempts to widen it, or leave it for a broader road, it must be in contravention of the Word of God, and to his or her own irreparable damage and loss.

Third, "married . . . only in the Lord" ( 1 Corinthians 7:39) goes much further than prohibiting an unbeliever for a mate. Even among the children of God there are many who would not be suitable to each other in such a tie. A pretty face is an attraction, but O how vain to be governed in such a serious undertaking by such a trifle. Earthly goods and social position have their value here, yet how base and degrading to suffer them to control such a solemn undertaking. O what watchfulness and prayerfulness is needed in the regulation of our affections! Who fully understands the temperament that will match mine? that will be able to bear patiently with my faults, be a corrective to my tendencies, and a real help in my desire to live for Christ in this world? How many make a fair show at the start, but turn out wretchedly. Who can shield me from a host of evils which beset the unwary, but God my Father?

"A virtuous woman is a crown to her husband" ( Proverbs 12:4): a pious and competent wife is the most valuable of all God's temporal blessings: she is the special gift of His grace. "A prudent wife is from the Lord" ( Proverbs 19:14), and He requires to be definitely and diligently sought unto: see Genesis 24:12. It is not sufficient to have the approval of trusted friends and parents, valuable and even needful as that (generally) is for our happiness; for though they are concerned for our welfare, yet their wisdom is not sufficiently far-reaching. The One who appointed the ordinance must needs be given the first place in it if we are to have His blessing on it. Now prayer is never intended to be a substitute for the proper discharge of our responsibilities: we are ever required to use care and discretion, and must never act hurriedly and rashly. Our better judgment is to regulate our emotion: in the body the head is placed over the heart, and not the heart over the head!

"Whoso findeth a wife (a real one) findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favor of the Lord" ( Proverbs 18:22): "findeth" implies a definite quest. To direct us therein the Holy Spirit has supplied two rules or qualifications. First, godliness, because our partner must be like Christ's Spouse, pure and holy. Second, fitness, "a help, meet for him" ( Genesis 2:18), showing that a wife cannot be a "help" unless she be "meet," and for that she must have much in common with her mate. If her huband be a laboring Prayer of Manasseh , it would be madness for him to choose a lazy woman; if he be a learned Prayer of Manasseh , a woman with no love of knowledge would be quite unsuited. Marriage is called a "yoke," and two cannot pull together if all the burden is to fall upon one—as it would if one weak and sickly was the partner chosen.

Now for the benefit of our younger readers, let us point out some of the marks by which a godly and fit mate may be identified. First, the reputation: a good man commonly has a good name ( Proverbs 22:1), none can accuse him of open sins. Second, the countenance: our looks reveal our characters, and therefore Scripture speaks of "proud looks" and "wanton looks,"—"the show of their countenance doth witness against them" ( Isaiah 3:9). Third, the speech, for "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh:" "the heart of the wise teacheth his mouth, and addeth learning to his lips" ( Proverbs 16:23); "She openeth her mouth with Wisdom of Solomon , and in her tongue is the law of kindness" ( Proverbs 31:26). Fourth, the apparel: a modest woman is known by the modesty of her attire. If the clothing be vulgar or showy the heart is vain. Fifth, the company kept: birds of a feather flock together—a person may be known by his or her associates.

A word of warning Isaiah , perhaps, not quite needless. No matter how carefully and prayerfully one's partner be selected, he will not find marriage a perfect thing. Not that God did not make it perfect, but man has fallen since, and the fall has marred everything. The apple may still be sweet, but it has a worm inside. The rose has not lost its fragrance, but thorns grow with it. Willingly or unwillingly, everywhere we must read the ruin which sin has brought in. Then let us not dream of those faultless people which a diseased fancy can picture and novelists portray. The most godly men and women have their failings; and though such be easy to bear when there is genuine love, yet they have to be borne.

A few brief remarks now on the home-life of the wedded couple. Light and help will be obtained here if it be borne in mind that marriage pictures forth the relation between Christ and His Church. This, then, involves three things. First, the attitude and actions of husband and wife are to be regulated by love, for that is the cementing tie between Lord Jesus and His Spouse: a holy love, sacrificial love, an enduring love which naught can sever. There is nothing like love to make the wheels of home life run smoothly. The husband sustains to his mate the same relation as does the Redeemer to the redeemed, and hence the exhortation, "Husbands love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church" ( Ephesians 5:25): with a hearty and constant love, ever seeking her good, ministering to her needs, protecting and providing for her, bearing with her infirmities: thus "giving honor unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered" ( 1 Peter 3:7).

Second, the headship of the husband. "The head of the woman is the man" ( 1 Corinthians 11:3); "For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the Head of the Church" ( Ephesians 5:23). Unless this Divine appointment be duly heeded there is sure to be confusion. The household must have a leader, and God has committed its rule unto the husband, holding him responsible for its orderly management; and serious will be the loss if he shirks his duty and turns the reins of government over to his wife. But this does not mean that Scripture gives him license to be a domestic tyrant, treating his wife as a servant: his dominion is to be exercised in love toward the one who is his consort. "Likewise ye husbands dwell with them" ( 1 Peter 3:7): seek their society after the day's labor is over. That Divine injunction plainly condemns those who leave their wives and go abroad on the pretext of a "call from God."

Third, the subjection of the wife. "Wives submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord" ( Ephesians 5:22): there is only one exception to be made in the application of this rule, namely when he commands what God forbids or forbids what God commands. "For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands" ( 1 Peter 3:5): alas, how little of this spiritual "adornment" is evident today! "Even as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, so long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement" ( 1 Peter 3:6): willing and loving subjection to the husband, out of respect for the authority of God, is what characterizes the daughters of Sarah. Where the wife refuses to submit to her husband, the children are sure to defy their parents—sow the wind, reap the whirlwind.

We have space for only one other matter, which it is deeply important for young husbands to heed. "Prepare thy work without, and make it fit for thyself in the field; and afterwards build thine house" ( Proverbs 24:27). The point here is that the husband is not to think of owning his own house before he can afford it. As Matthew Henry says, "This is a rule of providence in the management of household affairs. We must prefer necessities before luxuries, and not lay that out for show which should be expended for the support of the family." Alas, in this degenerate age so many young couples want to start where their parents ended, and then feel they must imitate their godless neighbors in various extravagancies. Never go into debt or purchase on the "credit system:" "Owe no man anything" ( Romans 13:8)!

And now for a final word on our text. "Marriage is honorable in all" who are called thereunto, no class of persons being precluded. This clearly gives the lie to the pernicious teaching of Rome concerning the celibacy of the clergy, as does also 1Timothy , etc. "And the bed undefiled" not only signifies fidelity to the marriage vow ( 1 Thessalonians 4:4), but that the conjugal act of intercourse is not polluting: in their unfallen state Adam and Eve were bidden to "multiply;" yet moderation and sobriety is to obtain here, as in all things. We do not believe in what is termed "birth control," but we do earnestly urge self-control, especially by the husband, "But whoremongers and adulterers God will judge." This is a most solemn warning against unfaithfulness: those who live and die impenitently in these sins will eternally perish ( Ephesians 5:5).


Verse 5

Covetousness

( Hebrews 13:5)

In this chapter of Hebrews the apostle makes a practical application of the theme of the epistle. Having set forth at length the amazing grace of God toward His believing people by the provision He has made for them in the Mediator and Surety of the covenant, having shown that they now have in Christ the substance of all that was shadowed forth in the ceremonial law, the tabernacle, and the priesthood of Israel, we now have pressed upon us the responsibilities and obligations which devolve upon those who are the favored recipients of those spiritual blessings. First, that which is fundamental to the discharge of all Christian duties is exhorted unto: the continuance of brotherly love (verse 1). Second, instances are given in which this chief spiritual grace is to be exemplified: in Christian hospitality (verse 2), and in compassion for the afflicted (verse 3). Third, prohibitions are made against the two most radical lusts of fallen nature: moral uncleanness (verse 4) and covetousness (verse 5), for the indulgence of these is fatal to the exercise of brotherly love.

Having in our last article dealt at length with the merciful provision which God has made for the avoidance of moral uncleanness—the ordinance of marriage—we now turn to the second great sin which is here dehorted against, namely, covetousness. "Let your conversation be without covetousness, and be content with such things as ye have" (v 5). Here is an evil and its remedy set before us side by side, as was the case in the previous verse, though there the remedy is given before that which it counteracts. We will follow the order of the our present text and consider first the vice which is here forbidden, before we contemplate the virtue which is enjoined: yet it will be helpful to keep them both in mind, for the latter casts light upon the former, enabling us to determine its exact nature as nothing else will.

"Let your conversation be without covetousness." The Greek word which is here rendered "covetousness" is literally "lover of silver," and the R.V. renders our text "Be ye free from the love of money." Now while it be true that the love of money or worldly possessions is one of the principal forms of covetousness, yet we are satisfied that the translation of the A.V. is to be preferred here. The scope of the Greek verb is much wider than a lusting after material riches. This appears from the only other verse in the N.T. where this word occurs, namely, 1 Timothy 3:3 , in a passage which describes the qualifications of a bishop: "Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous." The very fact that a previous clause specifies "not greedy of filthy lucre" makes it clear that "not covetous" includes more than "not a lover of money."

A comment or two also requires to be made upon the term "conversation." This word is limited today unto our speech with one another, but three hundred years ago, when the A.V. was made, it had a much more comprehensive meaning. Its latitude can be gathered from its employment in the Scriptures. For example, in 1Peter we read, "while they behold your chaste conversation:" note "behold" was not "hear!" The term then has reference to behavior or deportment: "But as He which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation" ( 1 Peter 1:15). It is not to be restricted to that which is external, but includes both character and conduct. The Syriac renders our word "mind," probably because both covetousness and contentment are mental states. "Let your conversation be as it becometh the Gospel of Christ" ( Philippians 1:27): this obviously means, Let your affections and actions correspond to the revelation of Divine grace you have received; conduct yourself in such a manner that those around will be impressed by the principles, motives, and sentiments which govern you.

So it is here in our text: let not covetousness rule your heart nor regulate your life. But exactly what is "covetousness"? It is the opposite of contentment, a being dissatisfied with our present lot and portion. It is an over-eager desire for the things of this world. It is a lusting after what God has forbidden or withheld from us, for we may crave, wrongly, after things which are not evil or injurious in themselves. All abnormal and irregular desires, all unholy and inordinate thoughts and affections, are comprehended by this term. To covet is to think upon and hanker after anything which my acquirement of would result in injury to my neighbor. "We may desire that part of a man's property which he is in-dined to dispose of, if we mean to obtain it on equitable terms; but when he chooses to keep, we must not covet. The poor man may desire moderate relief from the rich, but he must not covet his affluence, or repine even though he does not relieve him" (Thomas Scott).

Now some sins are more easily detected than others, and for the most part condemned by those professing godliness. But covetousness is only too often winked at, and some covetous persons are regarded as very respectable people. Many professing Christians look upon covetousness as quite a trifling matter, while the world applauds it as legitimate ambition, as business shrewdness, as prudence, etc. All sorts of excuses are made for this sin and plausible pretenses argued in its favor. It is indeed a very subtle sin, which few are conscious of. In one of his sermons Spurgeon mentions a prominent man who had a great many people come to him to make confession, and this man observed that while different ones acknowledged all sorts of outrageous crimes, he never had one who confessed to covetousness. Few suspect that this is one of the prevailing iniquities of their hearts, rather are they inclined to regard this vice as a virtue.

But the Holy Scriptures are very explicit on this subject. The Divine law expressly declares, "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is thy neighbor's ( Exodus 20:17). "The covetous, whom the Lord abhorreth" ( Psalm 10:3). To His disciples Christ said, "Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth" ( Luke 12:15). The votaries of Mammon are linked with "drunkards and adulterers," and such are excluded from the kingdom of God ( 1 Corinthians 6:10). The covetous are branded with the most detestable character of idolaters ( Colossians 3:5)—no doubt this is because they who are ruled by this lust adore their gold and put their trust in it, making a god of it. How we need to pray, "Incline mine heart unto Thy testimonies, and not to covetousness" ( Psalm 119:36).

God's Word also sets before us some fearfully solemn examples of the judgments which fell upon covetous souls. The fall of our first parents originated in covetousness, lusting after that which God had forbidden. Thus the very frontispiece of Holy Writ exhibits the frightfulness of this sin. See what covetousness did for Balaam: he "loved the wages of unrighteousness" ( 2 Peter 2:15)—the honors and wealth which Balak promised were too attractive for him to resist. See what covetousness did for Achan, who lusted after the forbidden silver and gold: he and his whole family were stoned to death ( Joshua 7). Look at Gehazi: lusting after the money his master had refused, and in consequence, he and his seed were smitten with leprosy ( 2 Kings 5). Consider the awful case of Judas, who for thirty pieces of silver sold the Lord of glory. Remember the case of Ananias and Sapphira ( Acts 5). In view of these warnings shall we call this worst of iniquities "a little sin"? Surely it is something to be trembled at!

Covetousness is an inordinate desire of the heart after the creature; which is a fruit of man's apostasy from the Lord. No longer finding in God the supreme object of his soul's delight and confidence, fallen man loves and trusts in the creature (mere things) rather than the Creator. This takes on many forms: men lust after honors, wealth, pleasures, knowledge, for Scripture speaks of "the desires of the flesh and of the mind" ( Ephesians 2:3), and of "filthiness of the flesh and spirit" ( 2 Corinthians 7:1). It is the very nature of the depraved heart to hanker after that which God has forbidden and to crave after what is evil, though this spirit may be developed more strongly in some than in others; at any rate, a larger measure of restraining grace is granted to one than to another. These irregular desires and inordinate thoughts are the firstborn of our corrupt nature, the first risings of indwelling sin, the beginnings of all transgressions committed by us.

"Thou shalt not covet" ( Exodus 20:17). "The commandment requires moderation in respect of all worldly goods, submission to God, acquiescence in His will, love to His commandments, and a reliance on Him for the daily supply of all our wants as He sees good. This is right and reasonable, fit for God to command and profitable for man to obey, the very temper and felicity of Heaven itself. But it is so contrary to the desires of our hearts by nature, and so superior to the actual attainments of the best Christians on earth, that it is very difficult to persuade them that God requires such perfection, and still more difficult to satisfy them that it is indispensable to the happiness of rational creatures, and most difficult of all to convince them that everything inconsistent with this or short of it is sin; that it deserves the wrath of God, and cannot be taken away, except by the mercy of God through the atonement of Christ" (T. Scott).

The most common form of this sin Isaiah , of course, the love of money, the lusting after more and more of material riches. This is evident in getting, keeping, and spending. First, in getting. To acquire wealth becomes the dominant passion of the soul. An insatiable greed possesses the heart. This exists in varying degrees in different persons, and is demonstrated in numerous ways. That we may be quite practical let us mention one or two. Often this is manifested in a greedy and grasping effort after inequitable profits and by paying an unjustly small wage to employees, the chief design of its perpetrators being to amass fortunes for their descendants. Yet often these very men hold prominent positions in the churches and "make long prayers," while devouring widows' houses and grinding the face of the poor. Alas, how the Gospel is dishonored and the sanctuary defiled by such sanctimonious wretches.

Again. Recently we read a faithful article wherein the writer took to task the lies and deceptions practiced by many shopkeepers and their assistants in palming off upon the public various forms of merchandise by misrepresenting their quality and value; the writer concluding with a solemn emphasis upon "all liars shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone" ( Revelation 21:8). As he finished reading the same, this writer asked himself the question, And how far is a greedy and grasping public to blame? Who is largely responsible for this commercial dishonesty? Who tempt the tradesmen to mark their wares as "great bargains," "prices much reduced?" Is it not the covetous purchasers? How many today are possessed with an insatiable craving after "bargains," buying things "cheap," without any conscientious consideration of the real worth of the article: it is that which fosters so much fraud. Let the Christian buy only what he needs, and when he needs it, and so far as possible only from upright traders, and then he will be more willing to pay according to the value received.

Second, covetousness evidences itself in keeping. There is a miserliness which clings to money as a drowning man to a log. There is a hoarding up for self which is entirely reprehensible. "There is one alone, and there is not a second; yea, he hath neither child nor brother; yet is there no end of all his labor; neither is his eye satisfied with riches; neither saith Hebrews , For whom do I labor and bereave my soul of good? This is also vanity, yea, it is a sore travail" ( Ecclesiastes 4:8). Yes, there are those who are utterly unconcerned about their eternal interests, and labor day in and day out, year after year, in order to add to what they have already accumulated, and who begrudge purchasing for themselves the bare necessities of life. They continue to amass money utterly regardless of Christ's cause on earth or the poor and needy among their fellow-men. There are still those the language of whose actions Isaiah , "I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years: take thine ease; eat, drink, be merry" ( Luke 12:18 , 19).

Third, covetousness also manifests itself in spending. If there be those who are niggardly, there are others who are wastrels. If there be those who condemn the miser for his stinginess, often they are guilty in turn of wreckless prodigality. That which ought to be saved for a rainy day, is used to gratify a desire which covets some unnecessary object. But let us not be misunderstood on these points. Neither the possession nor the retention of wealth is wrong in itself, providing it be acquired honestly and preserved with a justifiable motive. God is the One who "giveth thee power to get wealth" ( Deuteronomy 8:18), and therefore is His goodness to be acknowledged when He is pleased to prosper us in basket and in store. Yet even then we need the exhortation, "If riches increase, set not thine heart upon them" ( Psalm 62:10).

"Not slothful in business" ( Romans 12:11) is a Divine exhortation. So also there is a prudence and thrift which is legitimate, as is clear from, "There is that withholdeth more than is meet, but it tendeth to poverty" ( Proverbs 11:24). So also it is a bounden duty to make provision for those who are dependent upon us: "But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel" ( 1 Timothy 5:8). It is easy to swing to the opposite extreme and become fanatical, and under the guise of trusting God, tempt Him. To lay up for a rainy day is quite permissible: see Proverbs 6:6-8. Neither idleness nor extravagance are to be condoned. Those who through indolence or prodigality waste their substance and fail in business cannot be too severely censured, for they not only impoverish themselves but injure others, becoming the pests of society and a public burden.

Yet how difficult it is to strike the happy mean: to be provident without being prodigal, to be "not slothful in business" and yet not bury ourselves in it, to be thrifty without being miserly, to use this world and yet not abuse it. How appropriate is the prayer, "Remove from me vanity and lies; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me: lest I be full, and deny Thee, and say, Who is the Lord? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain" ( Proverbs 30:8 , 9). Romans 7:7 shows that it is only as the Spirit applies the Law in power to the conscience that we are taught to see the evil and feel the danger of covetousness; as, at the same time, it serves to check an avaricious disposition and curb inordinate fondness for the creature. That which most effectually strikes at our innate selfishness is the love of God shed abroad in the heart. A generous heart and a liberal hand should ever characterize the Christian.

A few words next upon the heinousness of covetousness. This evil lust blinds the understanding and corrupts the judgment, so that it regards light as darkness, and darkness as light. "If I have made gold my hope, or have said to the fine gold, Thou art my confidence; if I rejoiced because my wealth was great and because mine hand had gotten much... This also was an iniquity to be punished by the Judges , for I should have denied the God that is above" ( Job 31:24 , 25 , 28)—how little this is realized by the guilty one! It is an insatiable lust, for when covetousness rules, the heart is never satisfied: "He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver, nor he that loveth abundance with increase" ( Ecclesiastes 5:10). It is a devouring sin: "the deceitfulness of riches choke the Word" ( Matthew 13:22).

So terrible is this sin and so great is its power that, one who is governed by it will trample upon the claims of justice, as Ahab did in seizing the vineyard of Naboth ( 1 Kings 21); he will disregard the call of charity, as David did in taking the wife of Uriah ( 2 Samuel 11); he will stoop to the most fearful lies, as did Ananias and Sapphira; he will defy the express commandment of God, as Achan did; he will sell Christ, as Judas did. This is the mother sin, for "the love of money is the root of all evil." It is a gnawing and fatal sin: "But they that will be (are determined to be) rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition... which while some have coveted after they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows" ( 1 Timothy 6:9 , 10).

It is the working of this evil lust which lies at the root of very much of the fearful Sabbath-desecration that is now so rife. It is the greed of gold which causes the ra

the Sunday editions of the newspaper. How the nations of Christendom are heaping up to themselves "wrath against the Day of Wrath!" God will not be mocked with impugnity. Those who believe the Scriptures must perforce expect that soon a far worse war than the last is likely to be sent as a scourge from Heaven upon the present Sabbath profaners.

It was the spirit of covetousness which prompted Israel of old to disregard the fourth commandment. "In those days saw I in Jerusalem some treading winepresses on the Sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and lading asses; as also wine, grapes, and figs, and all manner of burdens, which they brought into Jerusalem on the Sabbath day: and I testified against them in the day wherein they sold victuals. There dwelt men of Tyre also therein, which brought fish, and all manner of ware, and sold in the Sabbath unto the children of Judah, and in Jerusalem" ( Nehemiah 13:15 , 16). Because of their Sabbath profanation, the sore judgment of God fell upon the nation. "Then I contended with the nobles of Judah, and said unto them, What evil is this that ye do, and profane the Sabbath day? Did not your fathers thus, and did not our God bring all this evil upon us and upon this city? yet ye bring more wrath on Israel by profaning the Sabbath" ( Nehemiah 13:17 , 18): "Hallow My Sabbaths and they shall be a sign between Me and you, that ye may know that I am the Lord your God. Notwithstanding, the children rebelled against Me: they walked not in My statutes neither kept My judgments to do them, which if a man do, he shall even live in them: they polluted My Sabbaths: then I said, I will pour out My fury upon them" ( Ezekiel 20:20 , 21).

Thus, not only is covetousness a fearful sin in itself, but it is also the prolific mother of other evils. In the poor, it works envy, discontent, and fraud; in the rich, pride, luxury, and avarice. This vile lust unfits for the performing of holy duties, preventing the exercise of those graces which are necessary thereto. It exposes to manifold temptations, whereby we are rendered an easy prey to many spiritual enemies. The more we yield to this evil spirit, the more do we conduct ourselves as though we desired our portion in this world, and look no further than present things, contrary to "while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen" ( 2 Corinthians 4:18). It tends to cast contempt on the mercies which are ours and quenches the spirit of thanksgiving. It turns the heart away from God: "How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!" ( Mark 10:23).

Let us now go deeper and solemnly observe the comprehensiveness of God's searching law, "Thou shalt not covet" ( Exodus 20:17). Light is cast upon those words by, "I had not known sin, but by the Law; for I had not known lust (‘concupiscence,' margin) except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet or "lust" ( Romans 7:7)—"concupiscence" is an evil desire, an inordinate affection, a secret lusting after something. What the apostle means Isaiah , I had never discovered my inward depravity unless the Spirit had enlightened my understanding, convicted my conscience, and made me feel the corruptions of my heart. Man ever looks on the outward appearance—and as a Pharisee of the Pharisees Paul's actions fully conformed to the Law—but when the Spirit quickens a soul, he is made to realize that God requires "Truth in the inward parts" ( Psalm 51:6) and cries "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me" ( Psalm 51:10).

"Thou shalt not covet." That which is here forbidden is concupiscence, or those imaginations, thoughts, and desires, which precede the consent of the will. Herein we may perceive the exalted holiness of the Divine Law—far transcending all human codes—requiring inward purity. Herein, too, we may recognize one of the fundamental errors of Romanists, who, following the Pelagians, deny that these lustings are sinful until they are yielded to, and who affirm that evil imaginations only become sinful when the mind definitely assents to them. But the holy Law of God condemns that which instigates unto what is forbidden, condemns that which inclines toward what is unholy, and denounces that which inflames with cupidity. All irregular desires are forbidden. Corrupt imaginations and unlawful inclinations that precede the consent of the will are evil, being the seeds of all other sins.

Again we say, Herein God's Law differs from and is immeasurably superior to all of man's laws, for it takes note of and prohibits all the hidden desires and secret lustings of the heart. It is this tenth commandment which, above all others, discovers unto us our depravity and shows how very far short we come of that perfection which the Law requires. There is first an evil thought in the mind causing us to think of something which is not ours. This is followed by a longing after or wishing for it. There is then an inward delight by way of anticipating the pleasure that object will give; and then, unless restraining grace intervenes, the outward act of sin is committed—see James 1:14 , 15. The first evil thought is involuntary, due to the mind's being turned from good to evil, even though that evil be simply lusting after a new but unnecessary hat! The longing is caused by the heart's being enticed by the delight promised. Then the consent of the will is gained, and the mind plans how to gain the coveted object.

This concupiscence or evil lusting of the heart is called "the law of sin which is in my members" ( Romans 7:23). It is what the older theologians term "original sin," being the fountain of evil within, corrupting all our faculties. Discontent with our lot, envy of our neighbors, yea, even the very "thought of foolishness is SIN" ( Proverbs 24:9). How high is the standard set before us: "Let none of you imagine evil in your hearts against his neighbor; and love no false oath; for all these are things that I hate, saith the Lord" ( Zechariah 8:17). Does the third commandment interdict any blasphemous oath upon the lips? then the tenth prohibits any risings of the heart against God. Does the fourth commandment interdict all unnecessary work on the Sabbath? then the tenth condemns our saying "what a weariness is it." Does the eighth commandment interdict every act of theft? then the tenth prohibits our desiring anything which is our neighbor's.

But it is not until after a person is regenerate that he takes notice of the inward motions of sin and takes cognizance of the state of his heart. Then Satan will seek to persuade that he is not responsible for involuntary thoughts (which come unbidden), that evil desires are beyond our control—infirmities which are excusable. But God says to him "Keep thine heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life" ( Proverbs 4:23), and makes him realize that every lusting after what He has forbidden or withheld is a species of self-will. Therefore we are accountable to judge the first inclination toward evil and resist the very earliest solicitations. The fact that we discover so much within that is contrary to God's holy requirements should deeply humble us, and cause us to live more and more out of self and upon Christ.


Verse 6

Contentment

( Hebrews 13:5 , 6)

Discontent, though few appear to realize it, is sinful, a grievous offense against the Most High. It is an impugning of His Wisdom of Solomon , a denial of His goodness, a rising up of my will against His. To murmur at our lot is to take issue with God's sovereignty, quarrelling as it does with His providence, and therefore, is a being guilty of high treason against the King of the universe. Since God orders all the circumstances of human life, then every person ought to be entirely satisfied with the state and situation in which he is placed. One has no more excuse to grumble at his lot than has another. This truth Paul instructed Timothy to press upon others: "Let as many servants as are under the yoke, count their own masters worthy of all honor, that the name of God and His doctrine be not blasphemed" ( 1 Timothy 6:1).

"The wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt. There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked" ( Isaiah 57:20 , 21). The ungodly are total strangers to real contentment. No matter how much they have, they are ever lusting after more. But God exhorts His people, "Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have" ( Hebrews 13:5). As it is their bounden duty to avoid the vice of covetousness, so it is their personal responsibility to cultivate the virtue of contentment; and failure at either point is culpable. The contentment here exhorted unto is something other than a fatalistic indifference: it is a holy composure of mind, a resting in the Lord, a being pleased with what pleases Him—satisfied with the portion He has allotted. Anything short of this is evil.

Discontent is contrary to our prayers, and therefore must be most reprehensible. When we truly pray, we desire God to give or withhold, to bestow or take away, according as will be most for His glory and our highest good. Realizing that we know not what is best, we leave it with God. In real prayer we submit our understandings to the Divine Wisdom of Solomon , our wills to His good pleasure. But to be dissatisfied with our lot and complain at our portion is to exercise the very opposite spirit, indicating an unwillingness to be at God's disposal, and leaning to our own understanding as though we knew better than He what was most conducive to our present and future well being. This is a tempting of God and a grieving of His Holy Spirit, and has a strong tendency to provoke Him to fight against us ( Isaiah 63:10).

When God does fight against us because of this sin, He often gives us what we were discontented for the want of, but accompanies the same with some sore affliction. For example, Rachel was in a most discontented frame when she said to Jacob "Give me children, else I die" ( Genesis 30:1). The sequel is very solemn: she had children, and died in childbirth: see Genesis 35:16-18. Again, we are told that Israel "lusted exceedingly in the wilderness, and tempted God in the desert. And He gave them their request, but sent leanness into their soul" ( Psalm 106:14 , 15). These cases need to be taken to heart by us, for they are recorded for our learning and warning. God takes note of the discontent of our hearts as well as the murmuring of our lips. "Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" ( Ephesians 5:20) is the standard which He has set before us.

Not only is discontent a grievous sin against God, but it unfits the Christian for the discharge of holy duties, preventing the exercise of those graces which are necessary in order thereunto. It silences the lips of supplication, for how can a murmurer pray? It destroys the spirit of submission, for complaining is a "fretting against the Lord." It quenches faith, hope and love. Discontent is the very essence of ingratitude, and therefore it stifles the voice of thanksgiving. There cannot be any rest of soul until we quietly resign our persons and portions to God's good pleasure. Discontent corrodes the strings of the heart, and therefore it arrests all happy endeavor.

Discontent is usually over temporal matters, and this is a sad intimation that material things are sought after more eagerly than are spiritual things. It argues a lack of confidence in the care of our heavenly Father to provide for us the things which are needed. "Christian, let me ask thee this question, Didst thou give thyself to Christ for temporal, or for eternal comforts? Didst thou enter upon religion to save thine estate, or thy soul? Oh, why then shouldest thou be so sad, when thine eternal happiness is so safe? For shame, live like a child of God, an heir of Heaven, and let the world know, that thy hopes and happiness are in a better world; that thou art denied those acorns which thy Father giveth to His hogs, yet thou hast the children's bread, and expectest thine inheritance when thou comest to age" (G. Swinnock, 1650). What cause have we all to be deeply humbled over our sinful repinings, to hang our heads with shame, and penitently confess the same unto God!

Yet notwithstanding both the sinfulness and injuriousness of discontent, many raise various objections to excuse the same. Some will plead their personal temperament in self-vindication, alleging that their natural temper makes them uneasy and anxious, so that they are quite unable to submit themselves unto the disposing providence of God. But, my dear reader, the corruption of our nature and its proneness to sin is no excuse for, but rather an aggravation of it, showing how much our hearts are opposed unto God. The more we yield to our natural inclinations, the more power they obtain over us. In such a case as the above we ought rather to be the more importunate with God, begging Him for His grace to restrain the inordinancy of our affections, to subdue our fears, and work in us willingness to acquiesce to His sovereign pleasure.

Others attempt to justify their discontent and uneasy frame of spirit by alleging that the injuries which others have done them ought to be resented, and that not to manifest discontent under them would be to encourage such people unto further insults and trampling upon them. To this it may be replied that while we complain of injuries done to us by men, and are prone to meditate revenge against them, we do not consider the great dishonor that we bring to God, and how much we provoke Him. It is written, "But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" ( Matthew 6:15). Remember that "What glory is it if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For even hereunto were ye called: Because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow His steps: who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth; who, when He was reviled, reviled not again" ( 1 Peter 2:20-23).

Others seek to excuse their discontent by dwelling upon the magnitude of their trials, saying that their burden is insupportable, so that they are pressed out of measure, above their strength. Even Song of Solomon , none of our afflictions are as great as our sins; and the more we complain, the heavier do we make our burden. Others point to the altogether unexpectedness of their trouble, that it came upon them when they were quite unprepared, and that it is therefore more than flesh and blood can endure. But the Christian should daily expect afflictions in this world, at least so far as not to be unprovided for or think it strange he should be exercised by them ( 1 Peter 4:12). With some the drastic change from affluence to poverty is so great they argue that it is impossible to bear up under it. But does not God say, "My grace is sufficient for thee" ( 2 Corinthians 12:9)?

Yet no excuses are to be allowed to set aside or modify this Divine injunction, "Be content with such things as ye have." But before proceeding further let it be pointed out that contentment is not incompatible with honest effort to enlarge the provision of earthly things for ourselves and those dependent upon us, for God has given us six days out of seven to be industrious. Idleness must not be allowed to cloak itself under the guise of this grace: contentment and indolence are two vastly different things. "This contentment does not consist in a slothful neglect of the business of life, nor of a real nor pretended apathy to worldly interests. It is substantially a satisfaction with God as our portion and with what He is pleased to appoint for us. It is opposed to covetousness or the inordinate desire of wealth, and to unbelieving anxiety—dissatisfaction with what is present, distrust as to what is future" (John Brown).

Contentment is a tranquility of soul, a being satisfied with what God has apportioned. It is the opposite of a grasping spirit which is never appeased, with distrustful anxiety, with petulant murmurings. "It is a gracious disposedness of mind, arising solely from trust in and satisfaction with God alone, against all other things whatever appear to be evil" (John Owen). It is our duty to have the scales of our heart so equally poised in all God's dealings with us as that they rise not in prosperity, nor sink in adversity. As the tree bendeth this way or that with the wind, yet still keeps its place, so we should yield according to the gales of Divine providence, yet still remaining steadfast and retaining our piety. The more composure of mind we preserve, the more shall we, on the one hand, "rejoice with trembling" ( Psalm 2:11), and on the other, "faint not" when the chastening rod falls upon us.

As this spiritual grace of contentment is so glorifying to God, and so beneficial to ourselves, we will endeavor to mention some of the chief aids thereto. First, a realization of God's goodness. A deep and fixed sense of His benevolence greatly tends to quieten the heart when outward circumstances are trying to us. If I have formed the habit of meditating daily upon God's fatherly care—and surely I am constantly surrounded by proofs and tokens thereof—then I shall be less apt to chafe and fret when His providences cross my will. Has He not assured me that "all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to His purpose" ( Romans 8:28)? What more then can I ask? O to rest in His love. Surely He is entitled to my confidence in His paternal solicitude. Remember that each murmur implies unthankfulness. Complaining is the basest of ingratitude. If the Lord provides for the ravens, will He overlook the needs of any of His children? O ye of little faith!

Second, a steady realization of God's omniscience. A deep and fixed sense of His un-searchable wisdom is well calculated to allay our fears and compose our minds when everything appears to be going wrong with our circumstances. Settle it in your mind once for all, dear friend, that "the high and lofty One" makes no mistakes. His understanding is infinite, and His resources are without measure. He knows far better than we do what is for our well being and what will best promote our ultimate interests. Then let me not be found pitting my puny reason against the ways of the all-wise Jehovah. It is naught but pride and self-will which complains at His dealings with me. As another has said, "Now if one creature can and ought to be governed by another that is more wise than himself—as the client by his learned counsel, the patient by his skillful physician—much more should we be satisfied with the unerring dispositions of God." Remember that complaining never relieves a single woe or lightens a single burden; it is therefore most irrational.

Third, a steady realization of God's supremacy. A deep and fixed sense of His absolute sovereignty, His indisputable right to do as He pleases in the ordering of all our affairs, should do much to subdue the spirit of rebellion and silence our foolish and wicked murmurings. It is not the Almighty's pleasure to give unto all alike, but rather that some should have more and others less: "The Lord maketh poor, and maketh rich: He bringeth low, and lifteth up. He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes" ( 1 Samuel 2:7 , 8). Then quarrel not with the Most High because He distributes His gifts and favors unequally; but rather seek grace that thy will may be brought into subjection to His. It is written "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee" ( Isaiah 26:3). Consider how many lack some of the good things which thou enjoyest. "Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker.... Shall the clay say to Him that fashioneth it, What maketh Thou?" ( Isaiah 45:9).

Fourth, a steady realization of our ill-deserts. A deep and fixed sense of our utter unworthiness must do much to still our repinings when we are tempted to complain of the absence of those things our hearts covet. If we live under an habitual sense of our unworthiness, it will greatly reconcile us to deprivations. If we daily remind ourselves that we have forfeited all good and deserve all ill at the hands of God, then we shall heartily acknowledge "It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed" ( Lamentations 3:22). Nothing will more quickly compose the mind in the face of adversity and nothing will so prevent the heart being puffed up by prosperity, than the realization that "I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies" ( Genesis 32:10) of God. Just so far as we really preserve a sense of our ill-deserts will we meekly submit to the allotments of Divine providence. Every Christian cordially assents to the truth "He hath not dealt with us after our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities" ( Psalm 103:10), then why complain if God withholds from us what He grants to others?

Fifth, weanedness from the world. The more dead we are to the things of time and sense, the less our hearts will crave them, and the smaller will be our disappointment when we do not have them. This world is the great impediment to the heavenly life, being the bait of the flesh and the snare of Satan by which he turns souls from God. The lighter we hold the world's attractions, the more indifferent we are to either poverty or wealth, the greater will be our contentment. God has promised to supply all our needs, therefore "having food and raiment let us be therewith content" ( 1 Timothy 6:8). Superfluities are hindrances and not helps. "Better is little with the fear of the Lord, than great treasure and trouble therewith" ( Proverbs 15:16). Remember that the contented man is the only one who enjoys what he has. "Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth" ( Colossians 3:2).

Sixth, fellowship with God. The more we cultivate communion with Him and are occupied with His perfections, the less shall we lust after the baubles which have such a hold upon the ungodly. Walking with God produces a peace and joy such as this poor world can neither give nor take away. "There be many that say, Who will show us any good? Lord, lift Thou up the light of Thy countenance upon us. Thou hast put gladness in my heart, more than in the time that their corn and their wine increased" ( Psalm 4:6 , 7). Walking in the way of God's commands is a real antidote to discontent: "Great peace have they which love Thy law, and nothing shall offend them" ( Psalm 119:165). Seventh, remembrance of what Christ suffered. "For consider Him that endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds" ( Hebrews 12:3). When tempted to complain at your lot, meditate upon Him who when here had not where to lay His head, who was constantly misunderstood by friends and hated by innumerable enemies. Contemplation of the cross of Christ is a wonderful composer of an agitated mind and a querulous spirit.

"Be content with such things as ye have: for He hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee." Here is an enforcement of what has just gone before, a reason for the duties enjoined, a motive supplied for the performance of them. One of the Divine promises is quoted, which if it be duly appropriated by us, we shall be dissuaded from covetousness and persuaded to contentment. Resting on this Divine assurance will both moderate our desires and alleviate our fears. "I will never leave thee nor forsake thee" is a guarantee of God's continual provision and protection, and this rebukes all inordinate desires and condemns all anxious fears. The evils are closely connected, for in most instances covetousness, in the Christian, is rooted in a fear of want; while discontent generally arises from a suspicion that our present portion will prove to be inadequate for the supply of our needs. Each such disquietude is equally irrational and God-dishonoring.

Both covetousness and discontent proceed from unbelief. If I really trust God, will I have any qualms about the future or tremble at the prospect of starvation? Certainly not: the two things are incompatible, opposites—"I will trust, and not be afraid" ( Isaiah 12:2). Thus the apostle's argument is clear and convincing: "Let your conversation be without covetousness; be content with such things as ye have: for He hath said, I will never leave thee nor forsake thee." The "for He hath said" is more forcible than "for God hath said:" it is the character of the One with whom we have to do that is here held up to our view. "He has said"—who has? Why, One whose power is omnipotent, whose wisdom is infinite, whose faithfulness is inviolable, whose love is unchanging. "All the efficacy, power and comfort of Divine promises arise from and are resolved into the excellencies of the Divine nature. He hath said it who is truth, and cannot deceive" (John Owen).

And what is it that He has said, which, if faith truly lays hold of, will subdue covetousness and work contentment? This, "I will never leave thee nor forsake thee." God's presence, God's providence, God's protection, are here assured us. If due regard be paid to these inestimable blessings, the heart will be kept in peace. What more would we have save a conscious realization of the same? O for a felt sense of His presence, for a gracious manifestation thereof to the soul. What were all the wealth, honors, pleasures of the world worth, if He should totally and finally desert us! The comfort of our soul does not depend upon outward provisions, so much as on our appropriation and enjoyment of what is contained in the Divine promises. If we rested more on them, we would crave less of this world's goods. What possible cause or ground for fear remains when God has pledged us His continual presence and assistance?

"I will never leave thee nor forsake thee." It is almost impossible to reproduce in English the emphasis of the original, in which no less than five negatives are used to increase the strength of the negation, according to the Greek idiom. Perhaps the nearest approximation is to render it, "I will never, no, never leave thee, nor ever forsake thee." In view of such assurance we should fear no want, dread no distress, nor have any trepidation about the future. At no time, under any circumstances conceivable or inconceivable, for any possible cause, will God utterly and finally forsake one of His own. Then how safe they are! how impossible for one of them to eternally perish! God has here graciously condescended to give the utmost security to the faith of believers in all their difficulties and trials. The continued presence of God with us ensures the continued supply of every need.

"For He hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee." These words were first spoken by Jehovah to the successor of Moses ( Joshua 1:5), whose task it was to dispossess Canaan of all the heathen nations then inhabiting it. The fact that the Holy Spirit moved the apostle to apply unto Christians this promise made to Joshua , supplies clear proof that our modern dispensationalists wrongly divide the Word of Truth. Their practice of partitioning the Scriptures and their contention that what God said under one dispensation does not apply to those living in another, is here exposed as nothing less than an effort of Satan to rob God's people of a part of their rightful and needful portion. This precious promise of God belongs as truly to me now as it did to Joshua of old. Let, then, this principle be tenaciously held by us: the Divine promises which were made upon special occasions to particular individuals are of general use for all the members of the household of faith.

What has just been affirmed is so obvious that it should require no further proof or illustration; but inasmuch as it is being repudiated in some influential quarters today, we will labor the point a little. Are not the needs of believers the same in one age as another? Is not God affected alike unto all His children?—does He not bear them the same love? If, then, He would not desert Joshua , then He will not any of us. Are not Christians now under the same everlasting Covenant of Grace as were the O.T. saints? then they have a common charter—"For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off" ( Acts 2:39). Let us not forget that "Whatsoever things were written aforetime, were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope" ( Romans 15:4).

"So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my Helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me" (verse 6). An inference is here drawn from the promise just quoted: a double conclusion is reached—confidence in God and courage against man. This intimates that we should make a varied and manifold use of the Divine promises. This twofold conclusion is based upon the character of the Promiser: because He is infinitely good, wise, faithful, powerful, and because He changes not, we may boldly or confidently declare with Abraham "God will provide" ( Genesis 22:8), with Jonathan "there is no restraint to the Lord" ( 1 Samuel 14:6), with Jehoshaphat "None is able to withstand Thee" ( 2 Chronicles 20:6), with Paul "If God be for us, who can be against us?" ( Romans 8:31).

"So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my Helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me." Once more the apostle confirms his argument by a Divine testimony, for he quotes from Psalm 118:6. In this citing of David's language, Christians are again taught the suitability of O.T. language unto their own case, and the permissibility of appropriating the same unto themselves: "we may boldly say" just what the Psalmist did! It was in a time of sore distress that David expressed his confidence in the Lord, at a time when it appeared that his enemies were ready to swallow him up; but contrasting the omnipotency of Jehovah from the feebleness of the creature, his heart was emboldened. The believer is weak and unstable in himself, and constantly in need of assistance, but the Lord is ever ready to take his part and render all needed aid.

"The Lord is my Helper" implies, as W. Gouge pointed out, "a willing readiness and a ready willingness to afford us all needed succor." Those whom He forsakes not, He helps—both inwardly and outwardly. Note carefully the change from "we may boldly say" to "the Lord is my Helper:" general privileges are to be appropriated by us in particular. "Man can do much: he can fine, imprison, banish, reduce to a morsel of bread, yea, torture and put to death; yet as long as God is with us and standeth for us, we may boldly say, ‘I will not fear what man can do.' Why? God will not see thee utterly perish. He can give joy in sorrow, life in death" (Thomas Manton). May the Lord graciously grant both writer and reader more faith in Himself, more reliance upon His promises, more consciousness of His presence, more assurance of His help, and then we shall enjoy more deliverance from covetousness, discontent, and the fear of man.


Verse 7

Motives to Fidelity

( Hebrews 13:7 , 8)

In seeking to ascertain the meaning and scope of the verses which now require our consideration due notice must be taken of their setting, and that, in turn, weighed in the light of the epistle as a whole. In the immediate context the apostle dehorts from covetousness and discontent, reminding his readers that God had said "I will never leave thee nor forsake thee." From that Divine promise he points out two conclusions which faith will draw. First, "The Lord is my Helper." The child of God is in urgent need of an all-powerful Helper, for he has to contend with a mighty foe whose rage knows no bounds. It is a great mercy when we are made conscious of our helplessness, when our conceit is so subdued as to realize that without Divine assistance defeat is certain. What peace and comfort it brings to the heart when the believer is enabled to realize that the Lord is just as truly his "Helper" when chastening him, as when delivering from trouble!

The Second inference which faith makes from the Divine promise Isaiah , "I will not fear what man shall do unto me." If the Lord will never leave nor forsake me, then He must be" a very present help in trouble" ( Psalm 46:1). O what a difference it makes to the sorely-tried soul when he can realize that God is not far away from him, but "at hand" ( Philippians 4:5). Yes, even if called upon to walk through the valley of the shadow of death, he will be with me, and therefore will His rod and staff comfort me ( Psalm 23:4). And since the believer's Helper is none other than the Almighty, no real harm or evil can possibly befall him. Why, then, should he dread the creature? His worst enemy can do naught against him without the Lord's permission. The abiding presence of the Lord ensures the supply of every need: therefore contentment should fill the heart. The abiding presence of the Lord guarantees all-sufficient help, and therefore alarms at man's enmity should be removed.

Even in the more general exhortations of Hebrews 13there is a tacit recognition of the peculiar circumstances of the Hebrews , and more plainly still is this implied in the language of verse 6. The Jewish Christians were being opposed and persecuted by their unbelieving brethren, and the temptation to apostatize was very real and pressing. "The fear of man bringeth a snare" ( Proverbs 29:25). It did to Abraham, when he went down to Egypt, and later on to Gerar, moving him to conceal Sarah's real relation to him. It did to the whole nation of Israel when they hearkened to the report of the ten spies. It did to Peter, so much so that he denied his Master. It did to Pilate, for when the Jews threatened him with "If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar's friend" ( John 19:12), he unwillingly consented to Christ's crucifixion. Fearfully solemn is that word, "But whosoever shall deny Me before men, him will I also deny before My Father which is in Heaven" ( Matthew 10:33).

Now it is in view of the trying situation in which the Hebrew saints were placed that we should consider our present passage. The apostle's design was to fortify them against temptations to apostatize, to encourage them unto steadfastness in the Faith, to so establish them that even though they should be called on to suffer a violent death, they would yet remain loyal to Christ. Moreover, their enemies were not only intimidating them by open oppression and threats of more dire persecution, but others under the guise of being Christian teachers, were seeking to poison their minds with errors that undermined the very foundations of the Gospel: it was to them that Paul had reference in verse 9. Hence, in verses 7 , 8 the apostle also calls upon the Hebrews to maintain their profession of the Truth in opposition to the lies of these Judaizers.

"Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the Word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation. Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever" (verses 7 , 8). A number of questions are raised by the terms of our passage. Who are the rulers here mentioned? In what sense or way are they to be "remembered"? What is signified by "following" their faith? What is denoted by the "end of their conversation"? Wherein do these exhortations furnish motives unto fidelity or steadfastness? Why affirm here the Savior's immutability?

First of all it should be pointed out that the A.V. rendering of the opening clause is misleading, and quite out of harmony with the remainder of the verse. "Those which have the rule over you" is a single word in the Greek. It is a participle of the present tense, but is frequently used as a noun, as is obviously the case here: "your rulers." That their present rulers could not be intended is quite apparent from several considerations. First, because the Hebrews were called upon to "remember," rather than submit to them. Second, because they are distinctly described as they "who have spoken unto you the Word of God." Third, because they were such as had already received "the end of their conversation" or conduct in this world. Finally, because there is a distinct precept given with respect to their attitude toward their living rulers in verse 17.

The reference Isaiah , of course, to the spiritual rulers, those who had ministered to them God's Word. The persons intended were the officers in the Church, that Isaiah , those who guided and governed its affairs. "Overseers" or "guides" is hardly definite or strong enough to bring out the force of the original term, for while it signifies to lead or go before, it also denotes one who is over others, being the word for "governor" in Matthew 2:6 and Acts 7:10. "Your leaders" would be better, though hardly as good as the word actually used in the A.V.—your rulers. Those in view were the apostles and prophets, the elders and pastors, who instructed the saints and directed the government of the churches. No doubt the apostle was more specifically alluding to such men as Stephen and James who had been beheaded by Herod ( Acts 12:2), men who had sealed the Truth they proclaimed by laying down their lives for it.

"Who have spoken unto you the Word of God": that is the mark by which Christian leaders are to be identified—the men whom God has graciously called to ecclesiastical rule are gifted by Him to expound and enforce the Scriptures, for the function of their office is not legislative, but administrative. The Christian leader, though he possesses no arbitrary power, nevertheless is to bear rule, and that, according to the Scriptures. He is not called upon to invent new laws, but simply to declare the will and apply the statutes of Zion's King. There cannot be a properly ordered household unless discipline be duly maintained. Alas, if one section of those who profess to be the ministers of Christ have usurped His prerogatives, exalting themselves into ecclesiastical despots, another class have woefully failed to maintain the honor of His House, letting down the bars and inaugurating a regime of lawlessness.

"Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the Word of God." By this criterion are we to test the ostensible "guides" and religious leaders of the day. "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits, whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world" ( 1 John 4:1); and never was there a time when we more urgently needed to measure men by this standard. "Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them" ( Romans 16:17). "If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed" ( 2 John 10)—no matter how pleasing his personality, soothing his message, or numerous his followers. "For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God" ( John 3:34): true of Christ perfectly, but characteristic of all whom He calls to the sacred office of the ministry. To speak God's Word is the grand duty of the Christian teacher—not to indulge in philosophical or theological speculation, nor to tickle the ears of men with sensational topics of the day.

The next thing singled out for mention in connection with these spiritual rulers who had preached the Word of God, is their "faith," which the Hebrews were enjoined to "follow." There is some difference of opinion among the commentators as to exactly what is here referred to. "Faith" is a term which has a varying scope in its N.T. usage, though its different meanings are closely applied, and can usually be determined by the context. First, "Faith" is the principle of trust whereby the heart turns to God and rests upon His word, and by which we are, instrumentally, saved: "thy faith hath made thee whole" ( Matthew 9:22), "by grace are ye saved through faith" ( Ephesians 2:8). Second, "faith" has reference to that which is to be believed, the Truth of God, the Christian Creed: "exhorting them to continue in the Faith" ( Acts 14:22), "the Word of Faith which we preach" ( Romans 10:8), "contend for the Faith" ( Jude 3). Third, "faith" is used to designate the fruits and works that spring from it, because it is their root: "brought us good tidings of your faith" ( 1 Thessalonians 3:6), "show me thy faith" ( James 2:18), i.e, the effects of it.

The term "faith" is used in still another sense. Fourth, it signifies fidelity or faithfulness, as in the following passages: "The weightier matters of the Law: judgment, mercy, and faith" ( Matthew 23:23), "the faith of God" ( Romans 3:3), "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace... faith" or "faithfulness" as in the R.V. ( Galatians 5:22). Personally we consider this last meaning of the term to be primary, though not exclusive, significance in our present verse. The reference is not only to the grace of faith which was in them, but to its whole exercise in all that they did and suffered. Amid much discouragement and bitter opposition those Christian leaders had not fainted, but held on their way. Despite temptations to apostatize they had persevered in their profession, remained loyal to Christ, continued to minister unto His people, and had glorified God by laying down their lives for the Gospel. Faithful to their Master, they were fruitful in his service to the end of their course.

The last thing here mentioned of these spiritual rulers is "the end of their conversation," which is the most difficult to define with exactitude. The Greek word here for "end" is not "telos" which signifies the finish or conclusion of a thing, but "ekbasis" which literally means "a going up out of." It is found elsewhere in the N.T. only in 1Corinthians , where it is rendered "God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it." "It is not therefore merely an end that is intended; nor doth the word signify a common end, issue or event of things, but an end accompanied with a deliverance from, and so a conquest over, such difficulties and dangers as men were before exposed unto. These persons, in the whole course of their conversation, were exercised with difficulties, dangers and sufferings, all attempting to stop them in their way, or to turn them out of it. But what did it all amount to, what was the issue of their conflict? It was a blessed deliverance from all troubles, and conquest over them" (John Owen).

"The end of their conversation," then, has reference to their egress or exit from this world of sin and sorrow. It was a deliverance from all their trials, an honorable way of escape from all their difficulties and dangers, an exodus from the land of their Enemy. Yet it seems to us that the particular term used here by the Spirit is designed to carry our thoughts beyond this present scene. What was before the mind of Paul himself as he announces that the time of his departure was at hand? First, he declared, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith," and then he added "henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness" ( 2 Timothy 4:7 , 8). As we have said, "ekbasis" signified a "going up out of:" thus the "end of their conversation" also meant a being taken to be forever with the Lord, a sure though future resurrection, and an unfading diadem of glory.

Corresponding to the three things said of their spiritual leaders, a threefold exhortation is given to the Hebrews. They were required to "remember" those who had spoken to them the Word of God," they were bidden to "follow" their faith, and they were enjoined to "consider" the end of their conversation. "Remember" is another word that is given a comprehensive meaning and scope in its Scriptural usage. It signifies that reverence and submission which is due a superior, as in "Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth" ( Ecclesiastes 12:1). It implies the holding fast of what has been received, whether instruction, promises, or warnings: "Remember, forget not, how thou provoked the Lord thy God to wrath in the wilderness" ( Deuteronomy 9:7). It means to recall that which has been forgotten: "When therefore He was risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this unto them, and they believed the Scripture, and the word which Jesus had said" ( John 2:22). It denotes to meditate upon, as in "And thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness" ( Deuteronomy 8:2).

Here in our text the "remember" is used comprehensively, as comprising all those duties of respect and esteem, of love and obedience, which they owed to their departed teachers. Nor was such an exhortation needless. Human nature is very fickle, and tragic it is to mark how quickly many a faithful pastor is forgotten. Such forgetfulness is a species of ingratitude, and therefore is sinful. "Now there was found in it a poor wise Prayer of Manasseh , and he by his wisdom delivered the city: yet no man remembered that same poor man" ( Ecclesiastes 9:15)—God taxes them with their forgetfulness! "Remember your leaders" includes thankfulness to God for them, speaking well of them, putting into practice their teaching. More specifically it means: treasure up in heart their instructions; call to mind their counsels, warnings, exhortations; gratefully meditate upon their untiring efforts to establish you in the Faith.

"Remember your rulers." How fearfully has this precept been perverted! What terrible superstitions have been invented and perpetrated in this connection: such as religious celebrations on the anniversary of their death, the dedication of "altars" and "chapels" unto their memory, the adoration of their bones, with the ascription of miraculous cures to them; the offering of prayers for them and to them. True, they are to be esteemed very highly in love for their works' sake ( 1 Thessalonians 5:13), both while they are with us and after God has removed them from us, but His servants are not to be "remembered" with idolatrous veneration, nor to the dividing with Christ any of those honors which belong alone unto Him. Not carnally, but spiritually are they to be remembered in what they did and taught, so that we are duly affected thereby.

It is at the point last mentioned we may perceive the pertinency of this precept to the apostle's design. His immediate purpose was to fortify them against departure from the Faith. Hence, he bids them "remember your rulers," for if you bear steadily in mind their instruction, you will at once perceive the error of the "divers and strange doctrines" which he warns against in verse 9. "The sheep follow Him: for they know His voice, And a stranger they will not follow, but will flee from him; for they know not the voice of strangers" ( John 10:4 , 5): that is the order—if we are heeding the true servants of Christ, we shall neither be attracted nor deceived by the emissaries of Satan. Again; a loving esteem of our teachers and a grateful remembrance of their devoted and laborious efforts to get us established in the Truth, will make us ashamed to go back on their instruction. Finally; to recall their steadfastness will be an encouragement to us when encountering opposition: they did not apostatize in the face of extreme peril—shall we spurn the example they left us.

And what is the clear implication of this to present-day preachers? Is there not here a searching word for heart and conscience? Is your ministry worthy to be stored up in the hearer's minds? Are your sermons worth remembering? The humble-minded will be ready to answer No, there is little or nothing in my simple and homely discourses deserving to be treasured up. Ah, brother preacher, it is not clever analyses of difficult passages which exhibit your mental acumen, nor lofty flights of language which display your rhetorical powers, that is of lasting worth. Rather is it that which makes sin to be more hated, God to be more feared, Christ to be more highly valued, the path of duty more clearly defined, which is what we are to aim to.

"Whose faith follow." This is the next duty we owe unto our spiritual leaders. It is closely allied to the former: we are to so "remember" them as to be effectually influenced in our own conduct. The word for "follow" signifies to imitate: it is used again in "For yourselves know ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you" ( 2 Thessalonians 3:7). "It is such a following as wherein we are fully conformed unto, and do lively express, that which we are said to follow. So a scholar may be said to follow his master, when, having attained all his arts and sciences, he acts them in the same manner as his master did. So are we to follow the faith of these guides" (John Owen). This is the greatest honor which we can do them, and is far more pleasing to God than erecting a marble monument to their memory or dedicating some "church" unto their name.

"Whose faith follow." There are many who sit more or less regularly under the ministry of God's servants, and they approve of their doctrine, admire their courage, speak well of them, but they do not carry out their principles or emulate their example. The whole force of this second exhortation is that we are to so "remember" our leaders as to be thereby influenced unto the living of a holy life. To "follow" their faith means to ponder their trust in God and pray for an increase of your own. Recall to mind their instructions, and continue thou in the profession and practice of the doctrine they inculcated. Meditate upon their lives, and so far as their works corresponded to their words, imitate their conduct. Copy their virtues, and not their eccentricities. "No mere Prayer of Manasseh , not the best of men, is to be our pattern or example absolutely, or in all things. This honor is due unto Christ alone" (John Owen).

"Whose faith follow." The appropriateness of this exhortation to the situation in which the Hebrews were is also obvious. It is a spiritual stimulus rightly to "remember" our former leaders, for it makes them, in a sense, present again with us. The faculty to recall the past is not only a Divine gift and mercy, but it entails definite responsibilities. As we recall the testimony and toil of our ministers, their loyalty to Christ and devotedness to our interests, we are to be suitably affected thereby. When encountering opposition, we should remember the much fiercer persecution others have suffered before us. When tempted to compromise and sell the Truth, we should think upon the unswerving fidelity of our fathers in the Faith. Should we ever be under heavy pressure to apostatize, we must weigh well the fact that the principles of the faith of our former leaders were adequate to sustain their hearts, so that they met death with holy composure, and seek grace to "hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end."

Once more we would pause and notice the solemn implication of this word to those of us who are ministers of the Gospel. Next to pleasing the Lord Himself, our chief care should be to set before our flock such an example of faith and holiness, as that it will be their duty to remember and follow. This is not optional, but obligatory, for God has bidden each of His servants "be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity" ( 1 Timothy 4:12); and again, "In all things showing thyself a pattern of good works: in doctrine uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity, sound speech that cannot be condemned; that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you" ( Titus 2:7 , 8). Alas, how many of the present-day preachers set an example which if followed by their hearers would lead them to perdition. O for grace to let our light "so shine before men, that they may see our good works, and glorify our Father which is in Heaven" ( Matthew 5:16).

"Considering the end of their conversation." Here is the third part of our duty toward those whom God has placed in spiritual authority over us. It signifies to observe diligently and thoroughly, so as to have the heart suitably affected thereby. The word for "considering" occurs again only in Acts 17:23 , namely, when Paul "beheld" the gods that the Athenians worshipped, so that "his spirit was stirred in him" (verse 16)! Literally, the term signifies "looking up to." The Hebrews were to recall the "conversation" of their deceased teachers, their manner of life, which was one of testimony and toil, fidelity to Christ and love for the souls of His people: a "conversation" of devoted service in the face of many discouragements and much opposition, sustained by trust in the living God; and the Hebrews were to ponder and take courage and comfort from the blessed end or issue of the same.

Thus the three parts of this exhortation are intimately related. The leaders were to be "remembered" in such a manner as to be effectually influenced by the example they had left; they were to be "followed" because their fidelity was Divinely rewarded with a victorious exit from this world. In the last clause the apostle presented a powerful motive to stir up the saints to the discharge of the duty previously described. Consider their "end" that yours may morally resemble it: you must adhere to their doctrine and imitate their practice if you are to receive the victor's crown. "Consider what it (their "end") came to: their faith failed not, their hope did not perish, they were not disappointed, but had a blessed end of their walk and course" (John Owen). Sometimes God permits His servants today to bear witness to the sufficiency of the principles of the Gospel to support and comfort on a deathbed.

"Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever" (verse 8). We will not now attempt to sermonize upon this well-known and precious verse, but rather give a brief exposition of it. The first thing to ponder is the particular book in which this declaration is made, for that throws light on its scope and meaning. Hebrews is the epistle which treats specifically and at length with the great alteration made by God in His dealings with the Church on earth, the revolution which was introduced by the substituting of the new covenant for the old, the passing away of Judaism and the inauguration of Christianity. This had involved many changes of a radical character, a great "shaking" and "removing" ( Hebrews 12:27) of "that which decayeth and waxeth old, ready to vanish away" ( Hebrews 8:13). It is in view of that our present verse is to be interpreted and enjoyed. The temple is destroyed, the ceremonial law is gone, the Levitical priesthood is no more; but Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church, the Mediator between God and His people, abides unchanged.


Verse 8-9

The Heart Established

( Hebrews 13:8 , 9)

"Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to-day, and forever" (verse 8). Sir Rob. Anderson and others regarded this as a declaration of the Savior's Godhead, arguing that "The Same" is a Divine title taken from Psalm 102:27 , etc. But why, it may be asked, should the apostle break his line of thought and introduce a formal affirmation of Christ's Deity in the midst of a series of exhortations? Such an interpretation destroys the unity of the passage. Moreover, there was no need for this, for the Redeemer's Godhead had been clearly and fully established in the opening chapter of the epistle. Nor was there any special reason for Paul, at this point, to insist upon the essential immutability of Christ, and that the translators of the A.V. did not so understand him is evident from their declining to add the auxiliary verb: "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today," etc.

"Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to-day, and forever." These words, as was intimated in the final paragraph of the preceding article, are not to be taken absolutely, but are to be regarded relatively; that is to say, they are not to be considered by themselves alone, but in connection with the precise place they occupy in the Sacred Canon. Every statement of Scripture is positioned by Divine Wisdom of Solomon , and often we miss an important key to interpretation when ignoring the particular location of a passage. The verse before us illustrates the special theme of the book in which it is found. The subject of the Hebrews' letter is the immeasurable superiority of Christianity over Judaism, and here is further demonstration of the fact. Under Judaism, Aaron had been followed by Eleazer, and Hebrews , by Eli; but our great High Priest abides forever. Israel's prophets followed each other on the stage of action; but our Prophet had no successor. So too there had been a long line of kings; but Zion's King is eternal.

"The apostle speaks not of the person of Christ absolutely, but with respect unto His office and His discharge of it: he declares who and what He is therein. He is ‘the same' in His Divine person: eternal, immutable, indeficient. Being so in Himself, He is so in His office from first to last. Although diverse alterations were made in the institutions of Divine worship, and there were many degrees and parts of Divine revelation ( Hebrews 1:1), yet in and through them all, Jesus Christ was still the same. In every state of the church, in every condition of believers, He is the same unto them, and will be so unto the consummation of all things; He Isaiah , He ever was, all in all unto the Church. He is the Object, the Author and Finisher of faith, the Preserver and Rewarder of all them that believe, and that equally in all generations" (Condensed from John Owen).

"Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to-day, and forever." How thoughtlessly is this statement received by many! How carelessly is its setting ignored by most sermonizers! Were we to take this declaration absolutely it would involve us in inextricable difficulties. Ponder its terms for a moment. Did your Lord undergo no radical change when He became incarnate? Did He experience no great change at His resurrection? During the days of His flesh, He was "The Man of sorrows:" is He so now after His ascension?—one has but to ask the question to perceive its absurdity. This statement, then, is to be understood with certain limitations; or rather, it is to be interpreted in the light of its setting, and for that, not a novice, but an experienced expositor is required. Let us consider it, then, in connection with its context.

First, as has already been pointed out, it most blessedly illustrated the special theme of this epistle, for in contrast from so much that was mutable and transitory in Judaism, the Author of Christianity abides essentially the same in all generations. Second, verse 8 supplies an additional and most powerful motive to fidelity. Some of their spiritual guides had already passed away, and in those still left, time and change would swiftly work their sure effects; but the great Head of the Church remained, being alive for evermore. Jesus Christ was the One who had supported their deceased leaders, who had passed through their trials victoriously, and if trusted in, He would sustain them, for He was the same gracious and powerful Shepherd of the sheep. He is for you, as for them, "the same" Object of faith, "the same" all-sufficient Savior, "the same" effectual Intercessor. He is "the same" in His loving design and covenant faithfulness. Then cleave to Him with unshakeable confidence.

Third, the blessed declaration of verse 8 lays a foundation on which to base the exhortation which immediately follows. "The only way by which we can persevere in the right faith is to hold to the foundation, and not in the slightest degree depart from it, for he who holds not to Christ knows nothing but mere vanity, though he may comprehend heaven and earth" (John Calvin). The Lord Jesus is the same, therefore, be ye not unstable and fickle. Christ is the same teacher: His doctrine does not vary, His will does not fluctuate, nor His purpose alter; therefore should we remain steadfast in the Truth, shunning novelties and refusing all innovations. It is only by "holding the Head" ( Colossians 2:19), submitting to His will, receiving His doctrine, obeying His precepts, that we shall be fortified against false teachers and persevere unto the end.

Thus, verses 7-9 are intimately related and together form a complete hortatory passage: so far as we have light thereon, we understand them to mean: Hold fast to the testimony of your former leaders, for they proved the sufficiency of the Truth they proclaimed; Christian doctrine does not vary from day to day, for Jesus Christ is ever the same. The designation used of Him at once intimates that He is not here contemplated so much as the second Person in the Godhead, as the Mediator and Head of the Church. He is the same in His identity ( Revelation 5:6), the same in His offices, the same in His efficacy, the same in His will; therefore must we refuse to be led away by those who teach anything different. The whole passage is a strong dissuasion against vacillation. The Truth is fixed; the Gospel is everlasting, therefore should we be "steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord" ( 1 Corinthians 15:58).

"Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines: for it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace: not with meats, which have not profited them that have been occupied therein" (verse 9). This is the point to which the apostle had been leading in the previous verses: trust in Christ, and cleave to Him according to the instruction you have received from your fathers in the Faith, and give not ear unto those who would unsettle and seduce you. "Divers doctrines" are those which differ from pure Christianity; "strange" doctrines are those which are foreign or opposed to the Gospel. To be carried "about" by such is for the mind to be unsettled thereby, producing an unsteadiness of conduct. To be immune from this evil the heart has to be established with grace, which, because of its deep importance, calls for a careful inquiry thereinto. "Not with meats" has reference to the efforts of the Judaisers to graft the ceremonial law on to the Gospel, a thing utterly unprofitable, yea, baneful.

"Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines." It is to be duly noted that the noun is in the plural number. This is in marked and designed contrast from the revelation which God has given us. Truth is a perfect unit, but error is multiform. There is but "one faith," as there is but "one Lord" ( Ephesians 4:5), namely, that which was once for all delivered to the saints ( Jude 3) in the revelation made of it by Christ and the apostles ( Hebrews 2:3 , 4). Hence, when the Truth is in view, it is always "doctrine" in the singular number, as "the doctrine" ( John 7:17), "the doctrine of Christ" ( 2 John 9) and see Romans 16:17; 1 Timothy 4:16 etc. On the other hand, where error is referred to the plural number is employed, as in "doctrines of men" ( Colossians 2:22), "doctrines of demons" ( 1 Timothy 4:1). The Truth of God is one uniform system and chain of doctrine, which begins in God and ends in Him; but error is inconsistent and manifold.

"Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines." The very fact that this dehortation was not only given verbally by the apostles to the Christians of their own day, but is also preserved in the written Word of God, clearly intimates that the people of God will always have to contend against error unto the end of time. Christ Himself declared, "Take heed that no man deceive you: for many shall come in My name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many" ( Matthew 24:4 , 5); and the last of His apostles wrote "try the spirits whether they are of God, because many false prophets are gone out into the world" ( 1 John 4:1). How unfeignedly thankful we should be that God has put into our hands an unfailing plummet by which we may measure every preacher and teacher. The doctrine of Christ changes not, and whatever proceeds not from it and accords not with it, is alien to the faith of the Church and is to be refused and rejected.

"Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines." As this dehortation concerned the Hebrew saints the reference was, of course, to the Mosaic institutions, as the remainder of our verse denotes: "for it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace: not with meats, which have not profited them that have been occupied therein." The Levitical law made distinctions of meats, and things of a like nature, which the false teachers were pressing with much zeal. It is plain from such passages as Romans 14:13-23 , 1 Corinthians 8 , Galatians 4 , etc, that determined efforts were being made by the Enemy to corrupt the Gospel by attaching to it parts of the ceremonialism of Judaism. When Paul says "which have not profited them that have been occupied therein" he referred not to the O.T. saints who had obeyed the Mosaic precepts, but to those who heeded the errorists of his day.

The principle expressed in this dissuasion is as applicable to and as much needed by the saints of each succeeding generation as it was by those Hebrews. It is one of the marks of the Fall that man is fonder of that which is material in religion, than he is of what is spiritual; he is most prone—as history universally and sadly shows—to concentrate on trivialities rather than upon essentials. He is more concerned about the details of ordinances than he is of getting his heart established with grace. He will lend a readier ear to novel "doctrines" than to a solid exposition of the fundamentals of the Faith. He will contend zealously for things which contribute nothing to his salvation nor conduce an iota unto true holiness. And the only sure way of being delivered from this evil tendency, and of being preserved from false doctrines, is to buy the Truth and sell it not, and to have the heart established with grace.

"For it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace." What is denoted by this weighty expression? First, what is it for the heart to be "established" and then how it is so established "with grace"? An established heart is the opposite from one which is "carried about," which term is used again in, "that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men" ( Ephesians 4:14). It is a poetic expression in allusion to sailing-ships and the impression of the wind upon them. The figure is apt, and suggestive of the nature of strange doctrines, the way in which they are spread, and their effects on the minds of men. In themselves they are light and vain, "clouds which hold no water" ( Jude 12): there is nothing solid and substantial in them for the soul. Those who would impose such doctrines on others, generally do so with much bombast and blustering; unless we believe and practice such things, we are denounced as heretics and unsaved ( Acts 15:1). The unlearned and unstable are disturbed by them, carried out of their course, and are in danger of making shipwreck of their faith. Hence, an "established heart" is one which is rooted and grounded in the Truth, securely anchored in Christ, rejoicing in God.

The word "grace" is vastly comprehensive and has various meanings in its Scripture usage. Its grand, original, fundamental signification is to express the free, eternal, and sovereign layout of God toward His people, for that is the spring and source of all the gifts, benefits and blessings we receive from Him. From this infinite fountain of the uncaused favor and special love of God—which is the "good pleasure of His (immutable) will"—proceed all the acts of His grace toward, in, and upon the elect. "Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began" ( 2 Timothy 1:9). From that blessed ocean of grace proceed our personal and unconditional election in Christ, our union unto Him, interest in Him, relation to Him, together with our being blessed in Him with all spiritual blessings ( Ephesians 1:3-6). We read of "the grace of God and the gift by grace" ( Romans 5:15): the former of which must mean the favor of God in His own heart towards us, in distinction from all the favors He bestows upon us; while the latter signifies the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, as flowing from the original grace in God.

The operations, breathings, and influences of the Holy Spirit in quickening, enlightening, revealing and applying Christ to us, so that we are put into actual enjoyment of Him and His salvation, are the outworkings of the everlasting Covenant of Grace; therefore it is all of grace. The next most common use of the term is inherent or indwelling grace, being used to designate that supernatural work which is wrought in the Christian at his regeneration, whereby he is made alive Godwards and is given a relish for spiritual things: such passages as "He giveth more grace" ( James 4:6), and "grow in grace" ( 2 Peter 3:18) have respect to grace in the heart. Then too the whole system of doctrine comprehended by "the Gospel" is so designated, for when Paul said to the Galatians , "Whosoever of you are justified by the law, ye are fallen from grace" ( Hebrews 5:4) he meant they had forsaken the truth of grace. Among the less frequent uses of the term we may note that its transforming effects age themselves called "grace" ( Acts 11:23); gifts for preaching beal' the title of "grace" ( 2 Corinthians 6:1), as do those virtues wrought in us by the Spirit ( 2 Corinthians 12:9 , 10).

"For it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace." By "grace" in this verse we understand, first, the doctrine of grace, that Isaiah , the truth of God's free favor without us, in His own heart towards us, which is made known to us in the Gospel ( Acts 20:24). Concerning this we read, "For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men" ( Titus 2:11) i.e. it has been revealed in His Gospel. The doctrine of grace is also styled, "wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the doctrine which is according to godliness" ( 1 Timothy 6:3). The doctrine of grace includes all that sacred system of theology, all the fundamentals of the everlasting Gospel of the blessed God, that grand "mystery" of His mind and will which sets forth to us the complete counsel and covenant of the Eternal Three, the record of God concerning His Song of Solomon , by which He declares that "he that believeth hath everlasting life."

As the whole of the Gospel, with the great salvation contained in it, and the blessings, consolations, privileges and promises of it, were fully, freely, and impartially preached by the apostles, so it was attended with the Holy Spirit sent down from Heaven to the minds and hearts of many who heard it, so that they were brought to a saving knowledge of the Lord, and to a true and actual closure with Him, by means of the Word of Truth. The doctrine of grace as proclaimed by God's accredited servants, and as clothed with the power of the Spirit, is the Divinely appointed means of turning the elect from darkness unto light, from power of Satan into the kingdom of God's dear Son ( Acts 26:18). Their understandings are illumined to know from the Gospel that it is God's will to save them through the appointed Redeemer, and they are enabled to personally realize that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.

Second, it is most important and blessed for the heart to be "established" with inherent grace: a fact which every one born of God must more or less know and feel. Where the Holy Spirit of God dwells, there sin is known in its guilt and felt in its power, while the effects of the Fall on all the faculties of the soul are experienced. When the Spirit has revealed the super-excellency of Christ, His all-sufficiency as a Savior, His suitableness as such, this begets some longings after Him, thirstings for Him, desires to be found in Him, and high prizings of His blood and righteousness. But many there are who, though quickened and called of God, have not yet closed in with Christ, cannot say He died for them, ‘know not that their sins are pardoned. The Spirit has thus far wrought with them that they feel themselves to be vile sinners, justly deserving of the wrath of God; yet they cannot affirm that their names are written in Heaven.

They are emptied of all creature dependency and self-sufficiency. Their hearts are broken and humbled with a true and thorough sight and sense of sin. They have heard of Christ, and of His infinite tenderness and compassion, love and mercy, to sinners like themselves. The Lord the Spirit has brought them so far as to listen attentively to the preaching of the Gospel and the searching of the Scriptures. Though they may be as bruised reeds and smoking flax, incapable of expressing their wants to God, or of describing their case to others, yet they find in the preaching of Christ crucified that which suits them. Though they cannot yet confidently say of Him "who loved me and gave Himself for me," nevertheless they wait on Him in his ordinances, longing for Him to arise upon them as the Sun of righteousness with healing in His wings. And though such may be called "seekers only," "inquirers after Christ," yet they are blessed: "Blessed are all they that wait for Him" ( Isaiah 30:18); "let the heart of them rejoice that seek the Lord" ( 1 Chronicles 16:10).

Upon such persons the Lord, in His good time, causes His light of grace to break forth more clearly, shining within them, causing their spiritual faculties to expand, and be exercised more particularly upon "the mystery of the Gospel" ( Ephesians 6:19) and the doctrine of grace. Thereby their spiritual "senses" ( Hebrews 5:14) are brought to taste the sweetness of Divine truth, to have a heart relish of it, to derive nourishment from it, to perceive its spiritual excellency. In receiving and digesting it, they are brought to find the doctrine of God's free grace to be wholesome and sustaining. By this means they are "nourished up" ( 1 Timothy 4:6) unto everlasting life. It is thus the Lord carries on His work in the souls of His people. At regeneration they are filled with joy in Him, and sin is but little felt within. But as the work of grace is deepened, they are made to see and feel their depravity, and their peace is clouded by increasing discoveries of their vileness, which makes way for a growing appreciation of grace.

Inherent grace, then, is a new nature or holy principle implanted by the Spirit at the new birth. It consists in spiritual perceptions, inward apprehensions, spiritual affections, in the souls of those who are born of God, whereby they are fitted for Him and Divine things, enabled to take holy delight in God, to have holy breathings after Him, to hunger and thirst after righteousness, to yearn for a consciousness of Christ's presence, to have a spiritual appetite to feed upon Him as the Bread of Life. Thus, it is most profitable for the saint to have his heart established with inherent grace, for he is the personal subject of it, and it is for this reason that God's people in general are so fond of experimental preaching—the tracing out of the work of the Spirit in their hearts—thereby enabling them to set to their seal that God is true, that He has thus far wrought in them to the praise and glory of His grace.

Nor is there any legality in this, for the work of the Spirit, in all its parts and phases, flows as freely from the Covenant of grace as does the work of Christ. Yea, we are expressly said to be "saved by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit" ( Titus 3:5), which is thus expressed to show that salvation depends equally upon the distinct offices which the Eternal Three are engaged in on behalf of the elect. It is helpful to converse at times with such as are experimentally acquainted with God, and His Son Jesus Christ, and who hold communion with Him by the Holy Spirit. Genuine Christian experience consists principally in this: the Spirit is pleased to open the Scriptures unto us, making them the ground of our faith, giving us to feel their power, making the experience described in them our own, revealing Christ as set forth in the Word to us, and filling our hearts with His love agreeably to what is revealed of it in the Gospel.

The people of God need to be taught and brought to an acquaintance with the real work of God within them, with His method of strengthening and comforting them, that they may learn the grounds of spiritual assurance. There is a needs be that the heart be established with grace as it respects their ascertaining for themselves that a supernatural work is actually wrought within them, that Christ is in them the hope of glory, that they "know the grace of God in truth" ( Colossians 1:6), and that their works are "wrought in God" ( John 3:21) as Christ expressed it. Let us therefore diligently study the work of the Spirit within us, comparing it with the written Word, and carefully distinguishing between natural and spiritual affections, moral refinements and supernatural regeneration. Nor let us forget that the grace of God within us is only discovered to us as the Spirit shines upon His own work in our souls.

It is also good for the heart to be established with the grace as it respects the doctrine of it: in the belief of the Father's everlasting love, the Son's complete salvation, and the Spirit's testimony thereof, which strengthens the faith and confirms the hope of the Christian. Confidence before God can be maintained on no other foundation than that of His grace. There are seasons when the believer's mind is filled with distress, when the guilt of sin presses heavily on his conscience, when Satan is allowed to buffet him; then it is that he is forced to cry "have respect to the Covenant" ( Psalm 74:20). There are seasons when he cannot pray except with groanings that cannot be uttered, being cast down with soul burdens and conflicts, but they only serve to prove to him the deep need of his heart being established with the truth of grace.

Thus, for the heart to be "established with grace" signifies, first, the doctrine of God's free grace without us, in His own heart toward us; and second, the blessed operations of the Spirit within us. When God's free-grace salvation is brought home to the heart by the Spirit, it produces blessed fruits and consequences in the person to whom it becomes "the power of God" ( Romans 1:16). It is of vast importance to hold forth a clear profession of the doctrine of grace, and it is of incalculable worth to be able to declare a genuine work of grace wrought in the heart by the Spirit agreeably to the truth we profess. The doctrine of grace is the means, in the hands of the Spirit, of begetting faith, promoting its growth, and supporting it. Therefore there is a real need of God's everlasting love and Christ's finished redemption being preached, though they be already known, and their power felt in the heart, because our walk with God and our confidence in Him receive all their encouragement therefrom.

While it is certain that the head must be enlightened with the knowledge of Truth before the heart can experience the virtue and efficacy of it, yet our text speaks of "the heart" so as to emphasize the quickening and operative power of Divine truth, when it is embraced and maintained in the soul. It is good for the heart to be established with grace, for it promotes the believer's spiritual growth, secures his well-being, and greatly contributes to his comfort. It is also a preservative against error, an antidote against unbelief, and a choice cordial to revive the soul in seasons of distress.

N.B. For much in the second half of this chapter we are indebted to a valuable sermon by S. E. Pierce.


Verse 10

The Christian's Altar

( Hebrews 13:10)

There is a saying that "a man usually finds what he is looking for," and there is a sense in which that principle holds good of not a little consulting of the Scriptures. Various kinds of people approach the Scriptures with the object of finding something in them which will countenance their ideas, and no matter how foolish and far-fetched those ideas may be, they generally succeed in locating that which with some degree of plausibility supports them—that is why the scoffer will often counter a quotation from God's Word with, "O you can prove anything from the Bible." It matters not to those who are determined to procure "proof" for their vagaries, that they "wrest the Scriptures" ( 2 Peter 3:16) either by detaching a sentence from its context and giving it a meaning quite contrary to its setting, or by interpreting literally that which is figurative, or giving a figurative meaning to that which is literal.

Not only does practically every professedly Christian sect make a show of producing Scriptural warrant for its peculiar beliefs and practices, so that Universalists, Annihilationalists, Seventh-day Adventists, quote a list of texts in proof of their errors, but others who do not claim to be "Christian" appeal to the Bible in support of their delusions. It would probably surprise some of our readers did they know how artfully (but wickedly) Spiritists juggle with Holy Writ, appearing to adduce not a little in favor of clairvoyance, clairaudience, trance-speaking, etc, while Theosophists have the affrontery to say that reincarnation is plainly taught in the Bible; all of which goes to show how fearfully fallen man may abuse God's mercies and profane that which is most sacred.

Nor are Romanists any exception. It is commonly supposed that they have very little concern for Scripture, buttressing their superstitions by an appeal to tradition and ancient customs. It is true that the rank and the of the Papists are deprived of the Scriptures, and are satisfied with "the authority of the church," as sufficient justification for all they believe and do, but it is a big mistake to suppose that her officers are incapable of making a Scriptural defense of their positions. The writer of this article discovered that more than a quarter of a century ago, in his first pastorate. Situated in a mining-camp in Colorado, the only other "minister" in the country was a Romish priest, with whom we got acquainted. He volunteered to give us Scripture for every Popish dogma and practice, and when we put him to the test (as we did, again and again), we were amazed and awed by the subtle manner in which he mis-"appropriated" the Word. It was then we learned the uselessness of "arguing" about Divine things.

The above thoughts have been suggested by the opening words of our present passage: "We have an altar." Most fearfully has this clause been perverted by those who have given it a meaning and put it to a use wholly foreign to the design of the Spirit in the passage from which it is taken. Deceived by the mere sound of words, the affirmation has been boldly made that not only did the Israelites in O.T. times have a literal and material altar, but that "we," Christians, also "have," by Divine appointment, "an altar," that Isaiah , a material one of wood and stone, and hence the "altar" and "high altar" in many "protestant churches." But an altar calls for a sacrifice, and hence the invention of "the mass" or "un-bloody sacrifice of the flesh and blood of Christ" offered by the priests. Many who do not go thus far, insist that the table used for the celebration of the Lord's supper should be designated "an altar," and suppose that our text authorizes them therein.

That such a conception as the one we have just mentioned is utterly groundless and erroneous may quickly be demonstrated. In the first place, whatever be signified by the "altar" in our passage, it is manifestly opposed to, set in contrast from, the visible and material altar of Judaism, so much so that they who officiated at the latter were debarred from feasting on the former. In the second place, the Jewish altar, like everything else in the tabernacle, was a shadow or type, and surely it would be placing a severe strain upon the imagination to conclude that the brazen altar of old was but a figure of a table now used in our "churches"! Third, sufficient has been advanced by the apostle in the preceding chapters to make it unmistakably plain that Christ Himself—in His person, office, and sacrificial work—is the antitype and substance of all the tabernacle types! Finally, the Spirit Himself has made it quite clear that our "altar" is a spiritual one, and that the "sacrifice" we are to offer thereon is a spiritual one: see verse 15.

"We have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle" (verse 10). In seeking to ascertain the meaning of this verse, which has needlessly perplexed and been made the occasion of much profitless controversy, it will greatly simplify the expositor's task if he bears in mind that the primary aim of the Spirit throughout this epistle is to set forth the transcendent excellency of Christ over all persons through whom God had, in times past, spoken unto men, and in the vast superiority of His office and work over all the institutions which had foreshadowed them under the old covenant. As the incarnate Song of Solomon , He is infinitely above all prophets and angels (chapters 1,2). Moses, "the servant in the house of God" retires before the presence of Christ "the Son over His own house" (chapter 3). So in regard to all the Mosaic institutions: Christ fulfills everything which they prefigured.

This is quite an elementary truth, yet is it one of basic importance, for error at this point produces most pernicious and fatal consequences. The entire system of worship that Jehovah appointed for Israel was of a typical character, and the reality and substance of it is now found in Christ. He is "the great High Priest" of whom the priests under the law, Aaron himself not excepted, were but faint adumbrations. His very body is "the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands" (). His was the sacrifice which fully and forever accomplished that which all the Levitical offerings proclaimed as necessary to redemption, but the repetition of which clearly testified they had never effected. In like manner, Christ is the grand Antitype of all the sacred vessels of the tabernacle: He is the true Brazen-altar, Laver, Golden-altar of incense, Candlestick, Table of shrewbread, Mercyseat, and Ark of the Covenant.

That the Lord Jesus is Himself the antitype of "the altar of burnt offering" appears by comparing two of His own declarations: "Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift?" ( Matthew 23:19); "And for their sakes I sanctify Myself" ( John 17:19). Both "the altar that sanctifieth the gift" and "the gift" itself meet in Him—just as both the officiating priest and the sacrifice which he offered find their fulfillment in Him. It seems strange that some able writers have quite missed the point of Matthew 23:19 when dealing with its fulfillment and realization in the Lord Jesus. They have made "the altar" to be the wooden cross to which the Savior was nailed, and that mistake has laid the foundation for a more serious error. No, "the altar" on which "the gift" was laid pointed to the Divine dignity of Christ's glorious person, and it was that which gave infinite worth to His sacrifice. It was for this reason the Spirit dwelt at such length upon the unique glory of Christ's person in the earlier chapters of this epistle, before He opened to us His sacrificial work.

What has just been pointed out above supplies the key to many a lovely O.T. type. For instance, we are told that "Noah builded an altar unto the Lord; and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings on the altar" ( Genesis 8:20). Very blessed is that. The first act of Noah as he came forth from the ark on to the purified earth was not to build a house for himself, but to erect that which spoke of the person of Christ—for in all things He must have the pre-eminence. On that altar Noah expressed his thanksgiving by presenting his burnt offerings, teaching us that it is only by Christ we can acceptably present to God our sacrifice of praise ( Hebrews 13:15). And we are told that Noah's offering was "a sweet savor unto the Lord," and then we read "and God blessed Noah and his sons" ( Genesis 9:1), for all blessing comes to us through Christ.

"And the Lord appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land: and there builded he an altar unto the Lord, who appeared unto him" ( Genesis 12:7). That was equally blessed. This was the first act of Abraham after he had left Chaldea, and then Haran where his progress had been delayed for a season, and had now actually entered Canaan. The Lord appeared to him here, as He had first done in Ur, and made promise of the land unto him and his seed; and his response was to set up an altar. And again we read "and he removed from thence unto a mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent between Bethel on the west, and Hai on the east; and there he builded an altar unto the Lord"

( Genesis 12:8). How significant! Bethel means "the house of God," while Hai signifies "a heap of ruins." It was between them that Abram pitched his tent—emblematic of the pilgrim character of the saint while in this world, and erected his altar—symbol of his dependence upon and worship of God. It was to this same altar he returned after his failure in going down into Egypt: Genesis 13:3 , 4.

Of Isaac we read, "And he builded an altar there, and called upon the name of the Lord" ( Genesis 26:25). How beautifully that brings out another aspect of our type: here the "altar" is the place of prayer, for it is only in the name of Christ—the antitype of the altar—that we can present our petitions acceptably to God. Of Jacob we read, "And he erected there an altar, and called it God, the God of Israel" ( Genesis 33:20). That was immediately after his Divine deliverance from Esau and his four hundred men—inti-mating that it is in and by Christ the believer is eternally secure. Of Moses we read, that he "built an altar, and called the name of it the Lord my Banner" ( Exodus 17:15). That was after Israel's victory over the Amalekites—denoting that it is only by Christ that believers can overcome their spiritual enemies. "And Moses wrote all the words of the Lord, and rose up early in the morning, and builded an altar under the hill" ( Exodus 24:4)—only by Christ is the Law magnified and honored.

But it is more especially upon the brazen altar in the tabernacle that our attention needs to be concentrated. A description of it is supplied in Exodus 27:1-8 , though other passages should be carefully compared. This altar occupied a place of first importance among the seven pieces of the furniture in the tabernacle, for it was not only the largest of them all—being almost big enough to hold the others—but it was placed "before the door" ( Exodus 40:6), just inside the outer court ( Exodus 40:33), and would thus be the first object to meet the eye of the worshipper as he entered the sacred precincts. It was made of wood, but overlaid with brass, so that it could withstand the action of fire, which was burning continually upon it ( Leviticus 6:13). To it the sinner came with his Divinely-appointed sacrifice, wherein the innocent was slain in the place of the guilty. At this altar the high priest officiated on the great day of atonement ( Leviticus 16).

The brazen altar was the way of approach to God, for it was there that the Lord promised to meet His people: "There I will meet with the children of Israel" ( Exodus 29:43): how that reminds us of the Savior's declaration "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by Me" ( John 14:6)! This altar was really the basis of the whole Levitical system, for on it the burnt offering, meal offering, peace offering, and sin offering were presented to God. Blood was put upon its horns, sprinkled upon it, round about it, and poured out at its base. It was the chief connecting-link between the people and Jehovah, they being so identified with it that certain parts of the offerings there presented to Him were eaten by them, and hence we read "Behold Israel after the flesh: are not they which eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar?" ( 1 Corinthians 10:18).

This was an altar for all Israel—and for none else!—and their jealousy was promptly stirred if anything seemed to interfere with it. A striking illustration of this is found in Joshua 22. There we read that the two and a half tribe's whose inheritance lay on the far side of Jordan erected an altar—"a great altar to see to" (verse 10). When the other tribes heard of this, they were greatly alarmed and severely censured them, for it appeared to deny the unity of the Nation and to be a rival unto the altar for all the people. They were only satisfied when the Reubenites assured them that they had not built this altar by the Jordan to offer sacrifices thereon, but for a witness (verse 27), declaring, "God forbid that we should rebel against the Lord, and turn this day from following the Lord, to build an altar for burnt offerings, for meat offerings, or for sacrifices, besides the altar of the Lord our God that is before His tabernacle'' (verse 29).

We may see again the prominent place which was given to the altar by Israel in the days of Ezra , for when they returned from the captivity, it was the first thing they set up—thus signifying they could not approach God or be connected with Him on any other ground. "Then stood up Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and his brethren the priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and his brethren, and builded the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings thereon, as it is written in the law of Moses the man of God" ( Ezra 3:2).

In view of its significance, its importance, its hallowed associations, one can readily imagine what it meant to a converted Jew to abandon the altar of Judaism. Unto his unbelieving brethren he would necessarily appear as a renegade of his fathers, an apostate from God, and a fool to himself. Their taunt would be, In turning your back upon Judaism you have lost everything: you have no altar! Why, you are worse off than the wretched Samaritans, for they do have a place and system of worship on mount Gerizim: whereas vou Christians have nothing! But here the apostle turns the tables upon them: he affirms that not only do we "have an altar," but it was one which those who still identified themselves with the temple and its services had no right to. In turning from Judaism to Christ the believing Hebrew had left the shadow for the substance, the figure for the reality; whereas those who despised and rejected Christ merely had that which was become "weak and beggarly elements" ( Galatians 4:9).

The sad failure of the great mass of the Jews, under the Gospel-preaching of the apostles, to turn their affections unto things above, where Christ had passed within the veil, and their stubbornness in clinging to the tangible system at Jerusalem, was something more than a peculiarity of that nation—it exemplified the universal fondness of man for that which is material in religion, and his disrelish of that which is strictly spiritual. In Judaism there was much that was addressed to the sense, herein too lies the power and secret of Rome's success: the strength of its appeal to the natural man lies in its sensuous show. Though Christians have no visible manifestation of the Divine glory on earth to which they may draw near when they worship, they do have access to the Throne of Grace in Heaven; but it is only the truly regenerate who prefer the substance to the shadow.

"We have an altar." Our altar, unlike that of Judaism, is inside the veil: "whither the Forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus" ( Hebrews 6:20), after that He had appeared here upon earth to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. To the Christian comes the blessed exhortation, "Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which He hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, His flesh; and having a High Priest, over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith" ( Hebrews 10:19-22). What a marvel of mercy, what a wonder of grace that poor fallen sinners, through faith in Christ's blood, may come into the presence of God without a fear! On the ground of Christ's infinite merits, such are welcome there. The presence of Christ on High is the proof that our sins have been put away, and in the joyous consciousness thereof we may approach God as worshippers.

But the special aspect in which our text sets forth Christ as "the altar" of His people, is to present Him as the One who furnishes them with that spiritual meat which is needed for nourishment and sustenance in their worship and service. The apostle had just said, "Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines: for it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace; not with meats, which have not profited them that have been occupied therein" (verse 9), and when he now adds "we have an altar," his obvious meaning is: we have in Christ the true altar, which supplies us with "grace," that better food which really establishes the heart before God. In other words, the Holy Spirit here explains and declares the fulfillment of those words of Christ "My flesh is meat indeed, and My blood is drink indeed: he that eateth My flesh, and drinketh My blood, dwelleth in Me, and I in him" ( John 6:55 , 56).

Let us now consider our verse a little closer in the light of its immediate context: that there is an intimate connection between them is obvious, for in verse 9 the apostle had spoken of "meats" and here he still refers to "eating"! Of the one he had affirmed they "profited not," concerning the latter he mentions those who have "no right" thereto. Over against the "meats which profited not" he had set that "grace" which establishes the heart, and now he contrasts "the altar" from the defunct figures of Judaism. As we have shown in the preceding article, to have the heart "established with grace" signifies two things: first, to be weaned from self-righteousness and creature dependence as to clearly apprehend that salvation from start to finish is of the unmerited and unconditional favor of God; second, to have the Spirit so shine upon His work within that as we diligently examine the same and carefully compare it with the experience of saints as described in the Scriptures, we may be definitely assured that we are born of God.

Having affirmed the vast superiority of the heart being established with grace over being occupied with "meats"—which expression referred directly to the Mosaical distinctions between clean and unclean articles of diet, but in its wider signification was a part put for the whole ceremonial system—the apostle now declares that the Christian is provided with far more excellent food for the soul. The striking force of this is only apparent by a careful study of the Levitical types and by closely following the apostle's argument in the verses which immediately succeed our text. The Jewish altar had not only typed out Christ offering Himself as a sacrifice to God for the sins of His people, but it had also foreshadowed Him as the life-sustenance of the true worshippers of God. How remarkably full were the O.T. types, and how much we lose by ignoring the same and confining our reading to the N.T.—no wonder so much in Hebrews seems to be obscure and of little interest to the Gentile.

Of many of the offerings which were laid on the tabernacle altar only parts of them were consumed by the fire, the remaining portions being reserved as food for the priests, or for the offerer and his friends—this food being regarded as particularly sacred, and the eating of it as a great religious privilege. For instance, we read, "This is the law of the meal offering: the sons of Aaron shall offer it before the Lord, before the altar. And he shall take of it his handful, of the flour of the meal offering, and of the oil thereof, and all the frankincense which is upon the meal offering, and shall burn it upon the altar for a sweet savor, the memorial of it, unto the Lord. And the remainder thereof shall Aaron and his sons eat: with unleavened bread shall it be eaten in the holy place" ( Leviticus 6:14-16). "This is the law of the trespass offering: it is most holy . . . Every male among the priests shall eat thereof . . . And the flesh of the sacrifice of his peace offerings for thanksgiving shall be eaten the same day that it is offered" ( Leviticus 7:1 ,6 ,15) "And the Lord said unto Aaron, Behold, I also have given thee the charge of Mine heave offerings... In the most holy place shalt thou eat it: every male shall eat it; it shall be holy unto thee" ( Numbers 18:8-10).

But the Christian has spiritual food far more holy and precious than any Israelite ever had, or even Aaron the high priest was permitted to taste. Christ is our food, the "Bread of life" to our souls. He is not only our sacrifice but our sustenance; He has not only propitiated God, but He is the nourishment of His people. It is true that we should by faith, feed upon Him when remembering His death in the way appointed, yet there is no reference in our text to "the Lord's supper," nor is "the Lord's table" ever called an "altar" in Scripture. Moreover it is our blessed privilege to feed upon Christ not only at "Communion seasons," but constantly. And herein appears again the immeasurable superiority of Christianity over Judaism. Israel according to the flesh partook only of the symbols, whereas we have the Reality. They had only certain parts of the offerings—as it were the crumbs from God's table; whereas we feed with Him on the fatted calf itself. They ate of the sacrifices only occasionally, whereas Christ is our daily food.

"We have an altar," namely, Christ, and He is the only altar which God owns, and the only one which must be recognized by us. For almost nineteen centuries—since God employed the Romans to destroy Jerusalem—the Jews have been without an altar, and are so to this day. For Romanists to invent an altar, and make it both the foundation and center of their entire idolatrous system, is the height of presumption, and a fearful insult to Christ and the sufficiency of His sacrifice. If those "which serve the tabernacle"—they who continued officiating at Jerusalem in the days when the apostle wrote this epistle—had "no right" to "eat" of the Christian's altar, that Isaiah , enjoy and derive benefit from the person and sacrifice of Christ, then, how much less have the pope and his satellites any title to the benefits of Christ while they so wickedly usurp His place and prerogative. That the Lord Jesus Himself is our "altar" as well as interceding High Priest also appears from, "Another angel (Christ as ‘the Angel of the Covenant') came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto Him much incense, that He should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne" ( Revelation 8:3)!


Verse 11

Christ Our Sin Offering

( Hebrews 13:11 , 12)

In the verses at which we have now arrived the apostle once more sets before us the O.T. shadow and the N.T. substance, which emphasizes the importance and necessity of diligently comparing one portion of the Scriptures with another, and particularly those sections which record those ordinances that God gave unto Israel wherein the person, office and work of His Son were so vividly, so blessedly, and so fully foreshadowed. The study of the types, when conducted soberly and reverently, yields a rich return. Its evidential value is of great worth, for it affords an unmistakable demonstration of the Divine authorship of the Scriptures, and when the Holy Spirit is pleased to reveal bow that type and antitype fit in to each other more perfectly than hand and glove, then the hidden harmony of the different parts of the Word is unveiled to us: the minute analogies, the numerous points of agreement between the one and the other, make it manifest that one presiding Mind controlled the whole.

The comparing of type with antitype also brings out the wondrous unity of the Scriptures, showing that beneath incidental diversity there has ever been an essential oneness in God's dealings with His people. Nothing so convincingly exposes the principal error of the Dispensationalists than this particular branch of study. The immediate design and use of the types was to exhibit unto God's people under the old covenant those vital and fundamental elements of Truth which are common alike to all dispensations, but which have received their plainest discovery under the new covenant. By means of material symbols a fitting portrayal was made of things to come, suitably paving the way for their introduction. The ultimate spiritual realities appeared first only in prospect or existed but in embryo. Under the Levitical instructions God caused there to be shadowed forth in parabolic representation the whole work of redemption by means of a vivid appeal to the senses: "The law having a shadow of good things to come" ( Hebrews 10:1).

The passage just quoted warrants the assertion that a spiritual study of the O.T. types also affords a valuable aid to the interpretation of much in the N.T. Just as the doctrine expounded in the Epistles rests upon and is illustrated by the central facts recorded in the Gospels, so much in both Gospels and Epistles can only be fully appreciated in the light of the O.T. Scriptures. It is to be deplored that so many Christians find the second half of Exodus and the whole of Leviticus little more than a record of meaningless and effete ceremonial rites. If the preacher would take his "illustrations" of Gospel truths from the types, (instead of searching secular history for "suitable anecdotes"), he would not only honor the Scriptures, but stir up and direct the interest of his spiritual hearers in those portions of the Word now so generally neglected. Christ is set forth as conspicuously in Leviticus as He is in John's Gospel, for "in the volume of the Book" it is written of Him.

The pity is that many of the more sober-minded and spiritual among God's people have been prejudiced against the study of the types, and the valuable use of them in interpreting the N.T, by the untimely efforts of unqualified novices. The types were never designed by the Holy Spirit to provide a field in which young men might give free play to their imagination, or exercise their carnal ingenuity so as to bring out a mystical meaning to the most prosaic facts, and startle their unlearned hearers by giving to trifles a farfetched significance. The wild allegorizing of Origen in the past should serve as a lasting warning. There are essential principles and fixed rules of interpreting the types which are never to be ignored. The interpreter must concentrate his attention upon central truths and basic principles, and not occupy his thoughts with petty agreements and fanciful analogies. The central and all-important subjects exemplified in the types are sin and salvation, the purifying of the soul, and the dedication of the heart and life to God.

Again; familiarity with the types and the spiritual principles they exemplify is a great help to the right understanding of prophecy. A type necessarily possesses something of a prophetical character, for it is a symbolical promise of the ultimate thing yet to appear, and hence it is not at all surprising that in announcing things to come the prophets, to a large extent, availed themselves of the characters and events of past history, making them the images of a nobler future. In the prospective delineations which are given us in Scripture respecting the final issues of Christ's kingdom among men, while the foundation of all lies in His own mediatorial office and work, yet it is through the personages and ordinances of the old covenant that things to come are shadowed forth. Thus, Moses spoke of the Messiah as a Prophet like unto himself ( Deuteronomy 18:18). David announced Him as Priest after the order of Melchizedek ( Psalm 110), while Malachi predicted His forerunner under the name of Elijah ( Malachi 3:1 , 4:5). Herein are valuable hints for our guidance, and if they be duly observed there will be no more excuse for interpreting "the Son of David" ( Matthew 1:1) in a carnal sense, than for literalizing the "we have an altar" of Hebrews 13:10.

From what has been pointed out above on the manifold value of the types—which might be indefinitely amplified, especially the last point—it should be quite evident that they greatly err who look upon the types as a mere kindergarten, designed only for the infancy of the Church. The very fact that the Holy Spirit has preserved a record of them in the imperishable Word of Truth, is clear intimation that they possess far more than a local use and temporary purpose. The mind of God and the circumstances of the fallen creature are substantially the same in all ages, while the spiritual needs of the saints are the same now as they were four thousand years ago, and were the same then as they are today. If, then, the wisdom of God placed His people of old under a course of instruction through the types, it is our folly and loss if we despise the same today. A mathematician still has use for the elementary principles of arithmetic, as a trained musician scorns not the rudimentary scales.

The basic principles underlying the types were made use of by Christ at the dawn of the N.T. era, thus intimating that the fundamental methods employed by God are the same in all generations. Every miracle the Lord Jesus performed was a type in history, for on the outward and visible plane of Nature He displayed the Divine power and work which He came here to accomplish in the higher realm of Grace. In every act of healing men's bodily diseases, there was an adumbration to the eye of sense of that salvation which He would provide for the healing of the soul. In the demands which He made upon those whom He healed, a revelation was given of the principles by which His salvation may be procured by us. The facts of the Gospels are the key to the truths of the Epistles, and the types of the O.T. are the key to the facts of the Gospel. Thus, one part of Scripture is made dependent on the other, just as no member of our body is independent of its fellow-members.

"For the bodies of those beasts, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin. are burned without the camp. Wherefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered without the gate" (verses 11 , 12). In these verses the apostle supplies a striking illustration and confirmation of what he had just previously affirmed. In the preceding verse he had declared that Christ is the altar of His people—the antitype of all that had been shadowed out by the typical altars of O.T. times—which, as we showed, signifies not only that Christ is their atoning sacrifice unto God, but that He is also the sustenance, the food, for His people. Then followed the solemn statement that those who stubbornly and unbelievingly continued to adhere unto Judaism, deprived themselves of the blessings enjoyed by Christians.

As we have so often pointed out, the Hebrew saints were being urged to return unto the Divinely-instituted religion of their fathers. In verse 9 the apostle presents to them two further dissausives. First, he assured them they now possess the Antitype of all the types of Judaism: why, then, be tempted by the shadows when they possessed the Substance! Second, he solemnly affirms that those who still clung to Judaism cut themselves off from the Christian privileges: they had "no right," no Divine title to "eat" or partake of them. The application of this principle to us today is obvious. The same two-fold argument should suffice to draw off our hearts from doting upon ritualistic rites and performances: possessing Christ as our great High Priest, having access to the Throne of Grace, such things as bowing to the east, elevating the offering (collection), candles, incense, pictures, images, are needless and worthless, and if the heart be set on them and a saving value be ascribed to them, they effectually exclude us from an interest in Christ's salvation.

In the preceding article we showed how strikingly and blessedly the O.T. types pointed to Christ as the nourishment of His people: only parts of the sacrifices were burnt upon the altar, other portions thereof being allotted to the priests or the offerer and his family. But there was a notable exception to this, unto which the apostle now directs our attention. "For the bodies of those beasts, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned without the camp." The reference is unto the sin offerings. These were slain on the altar in the outer court, but their blood was carried inside the tabernacle and sprinkled before or upon the throne of Jehovah, while their carcasses were utterly consumed outside the camp. This was, of course, while Israel were sojourners in the wilderness and lived in tents but the same order was observed after they entered Canaan and the temple was built in Jerusalem—the bodies of the sin offerings being carried out beyond the walls of the city to be consumed there.

The apostle was referring to such passages as Leviticus 4:1-12 , where provision was made for an atonement when a priest had unwittingly sinned against any of the commandments of the Lord. He was to bring a bullock unto the door of the tabernacle for a sin offering, lay his hand upon its head (as an act of identification, to denote that the doom awaiting it was what he deserved), and kill it before the Lord. Its blood was then to be brought into the tabernacle and sprinkled seven times before the Lord, before the veil of the sanctuary, and upon the horns of the incense altar, and the remainder thereof poured out at the base of the brazen altar. The richest portions of the animal were then burned upon the altar, but the remainder of it was carried forth "without the camp," and there utterly consumed by fire. The same order was followed when the whole congregation sinned through ignorance ( Leviticus 4:12-21), the account closing with "He shall carry forth the bullock without the camp, and burn him as he burned the first bullock: it is a sin offering." The reader may also compare Numbers 19:3 , 9.

But there is no doubt that the apostle was alluding more particularly unto the chief sin offering which was offered on the annual day of atonement, when propitiation was made for all the sins of Israel once a year, described at length in Leviticus 16. Concerning the blood of this sacrifice we read, "And he (the high priest) shall take of the blood of the bullock and sprinkle it with his finger upon the mercyseat eastward, and before the mercyseat shall he sprinkle of the blood with his finger seven times" (verse 14). Regarding the bodies of those beasts used on this occasion we are told, "and the bullock for the sin offering, and the goat for the sin offering, whose blood was brought in to make atonement in the holy place, shall one carry forth without the camp: and they shall burn in the fire their skins and their flesh, and their dung" (verse 27). These passages, then, make it quite clear to which particular class of sacrifices the apostle was referring in Hebrews 13:10 , 11.

The question now arises, Wherein lies the relevancy of this allusion to these passages in Leviticus in our present text? What was the apostle's particular design in referring to the sin offerings? It was twofold. First, to substantiate his assertion that they who served the tabernacle had "no right to eat" of the Christian's altar—i.e, had no title to partake of the benefits of Christ, who has, as our next verse shows, died as a sin offering. There was a Divine prohibition which expressly forbade any feeding upon the same: "And no sin offering, whereof any of the blood is brought into the tabernacle of the congregation to reconcile withal in the holy place, shall be eaten: it shall be burnt in the fire" ( Leviticus 6:30). Those, then, who clung to Judaism were cut off from the Antitype's sin offering. Second, to exhibit the superiority of Christianity: those who trust in Christ eat His flesh and drink His blood ( John 6:54-56).

But let us dwell for a moment on the spiritual significance of this particular detail in the type. It presents to us that feature in the sufferings of Christ which is the most solemn of all to contemplate, namely, His being made sin for His people and enduring the penal wrath of God. "Outside the camp" was the place where the leper was compelled to dwell ( Leviticus 13:46), it was the place where criminals were condemned and slain ( Leviticus 24:14 and cf. Joshua 7:25 , 1 Kings 21:13 , Acts 7:58), it was the place where the defiled were put ( Numbers 5:3), it was the place where filth was deposited ( Deuteronomy 23:12-14). And that was the place, dear Christian reader, that the incarnate Song of Solomon , the Holy One of God, entered for you and for me! O the unspeakable humiliation when He suffered Himself to be "numbered with the transgressors" ( Isaiah 53:12). O the unutterable mystery of the Blessed One "being made a curse for us" ( Galatians 3:13). O the unspeakable anguish when the sword of Divine justice smote Him ( Zechariah 13:7), and God forsook Him ( Matthew 27:46).

Yet let it be emphatically insisted upon that Christ remained, personally and essentially, the Untainted One, even when the fearful load of the sins of His people was laid upon Him. This very point was carefully guarded by God—ever jealous of the honor of His son—in the types, yea, in the sin offerings themselves. First, the blood of the sin offering was carried within the sanctuary itself and sprinkled before the Lord ( Leviticus 4:6), which was not done with any other offering. Second, "the fat that covereth the inwards" of the animal was burned upon the altar ( Leviticus 4:8-10), yea, "for a sweet savor unto the Lord," intimating that God still beheld that in His Son with which He was well pleased even while He was bearing the sins of His people. Third, it was expressly enjoined that the carcase of the bullock should be carried forth "without the camp unto a clean place" ( Leviticus 4:12), signifying it was still holy unto the Lord, and not a polluted thing.

Christ was "as pure, as holy, and as precious in the sight of God whilst groaning under the infliction of damnatory wrath on the accursed tree, as when He was in the bosom of the Father before all worlds—the very same moment in which He was ‘bruised' and ‘made a curse' for us, being also that in which He offered Himself for us ‘an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savor.' Never was the character of Jesus exhibited in more transcendent excellency; never were His relations to God and to man maintained in greater perfectness than during the time that He suffered for us on the Tree. Never did the Father more delight in and appreciate the excellency of the Son of His love; never did the Son more love and honor and delight in the Father than when He uttered that bitter cry ‘My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?' The very circumstances which placed Jesus, outwardly, in the extreme of distance from Heaven and from God, only proved that there was an essential nearness—an everlasting moral nearness, which not even the fact of His being the Bearer of damnatory wrath could for one moment alter" (B.W. Newton).

The immediate reason why none of the Israelites, not even the high priest, was allowed to eat any portion of the sin offering, and why its carcass was burnt outside the camp rather than upon the altar, seems to lie in the distinctive nature and special design of this offering. Had the priest eaten of any portion thereof, that had given it the character of a peace offering, and had the whole been consumed upon the altar it had too closely resembled the burnt offering. But, as we have pointed out before, the ultimate reason and deeper design was to denote that Judaism had to be abandoned before one could "eat" or derive benefit from the Christian's "altar." Herein lies the superiority of Christianity, that we are permitted to feed upon a Sacrifice of the highest and holiest kind, receiving therefrom those blessings and benefits which Christ has procured for His people by the shedding of His precious blood.

The apostle, then, has furnished clear proof of what he had asserted in vv 9 , 10 , and that from the O.T. Scriptures themselves. There he had said, "it is good that the heart be established with grace," which means for the mind to have such a fixed persuasion of the Truth as to enjoy peace with God, without which there can be no real and solid tranquility. Then the apostle had said, "Not with meats, which have not profited them that have been occupied therein," which must be understood in the light of the previous clause: the ceremonial distinctions of the Levitical law were altogether inadequate for justification and peace with God. Moreover, that sacrifice which made atonement for sin provided no food for those who offered it, and the heart cannot be established before God where sins are not remitted.

"Wherefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered without the gate." Here is the Christian's altar, here is the all-sufficient sacrifice offered once for all upon it, and here is the blessed effect thereof, his sanctification. The opening "wherefore" of this verse called for the line of thought developed in the opening paragraphs of this article. It intimated that it was for the express purpose of meeting the requirements of the O.T. types that the Lord Jesus was "lead as a lamb to the slaughter" and suffered the horrible ignominy of being cast out of the holy city and put to death in the place where the worst of criminals were executed. What honor did the Substance now place upon the shadows! A wide field of study is here suggested to us, and a reverent and patient survey of it will well repay our efforts.

How frequently in the four Gospels has the Holy Spirit assigned as the reason for what Christ did "that the Scriptures might be fulfilled." That expression is not to be restricted to Christ's design in accomplishing the terms of Messianic prophecy—though, of course, that is included—for it also and often has reference to His so acting in order that the types which foreshadowed Him might be realized. The will of God concerning the Mediator had been intimated in the legal institutions, for in them a prefiguration was made of what Christ should do and suffer, and His perfect obedience to the Father moved Him unto a compliance therewith. Consequently, the fuller be our knowledge of the types, the more shall we be able to understand the recorded details of our Savior's earthly life (particularly of His last week), and the more can we appreciate the motive which actuated Him—complete subjection to the will of the One who had sent Him. That particular which the Holy Spirit notes in our text is but one illustration from many, if we take the trouble to search them out.

"The complete answering and fulfilling of all types in the person and office of Christ, testifieth the sameness and immutability of the counsel of God in the whole work of the redemption and salvation of the Church, notwithstanding all the outward changes that have been in the institutions of Divine worship" (John Owen). But it did something else too: it left the unbelieving Jews without excuse: Christ's implicit compliance with the types, His complete and perfect production of all that had been foreshadowed of Him, furnished the most indubitable demonstration that He was the promised Messiah, and therefore His rejection by the Nation at large sealed their doom, and was the reason why, a little later, God destroyed their sanctuary, city, and heritage.

"Wherefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered without the gate." Christ Himself is the all-sufficient sin-offering of His people. Just as all the iniquities, transgressions and sins of natural Israel were, in a figure, transferred to the typical offering ( Leviticus 16:21), so all the iniquities, transgressions and sins of the spiritual Israel were imputed to their Surety ( Isaiah 53:6 , 7 , 11 , 12). Just as the goat bearing the iniquities of natural Israel was sent away "into a land not inhabited" ( Leviticus 16:22), so "as far as the east is from the west, so far hath Christ removed our transgression from us" ( Psalm 103:12). And just as "on that day shall the priest make an atonement for you, to cleanse you, that ye may be clean from all your sins before the Lord" ( Leviticus 16:30), so "The blood of Jesus Christ God's Son cleanseth us from all sin ( 1 John 1:7).

Observe that in strict keeping with the fact that the Redeemer is here contemplated as the antitypical Sin-offering, He is referred to simply as "Jesus," and not "Jesus Christ" as in verses 8 , 21 , still less "our Lord Jesus" as in . He is not alluded to in these different ways at random, nor for the mere purpose of variation. Not so does the Holy Spirit order His speech: there is nothing haphazard in His language. The various designations accorded the Savior in the Word are selected with Divine propriety, and nothing affords a more striking evidence of the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures than the unerring precision with which they are used. "Jesus" is His personal name as man ( Matthew 1:21); "Christ" is His official title, as the One anointed of God ( Matthew 16:16 , 20); while "The Lord Jesus" points to His exalted status and authority ( John 13:13 , Acts 2:36). When "Jesus" is used alone, it is either for the special purpose of identification (as in Acts 1:11), or to emphasize the infinite depths of humiliation into which the Son of God descended.

"Wherefore (in fulfillment of the types which had defined the path He should tread), Jesus also (the Antitype, the Just who had entered the place of the unjust, the infinitely Glorious One who had descended into such unfathomable depths of degradation), that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered without the gate." This was the particular feature made most prominent in the type, for the sin-offering was not only slain, and its carcass taken outside the camp, but there is was utterly consumed. It spoke of Christ as the Sin-bearer enduring the fiery indignation of a sin-hating God, suffering His penal wrath. It spoke of Christ offering Himself to God as a sacrifice for the sins of His people, to make atonement for them, for His blood was shed, and blood was never employed under the types except to make atonement ( Leviticus 17:11). It Isaiah , then, by the voluntary and vicarious blood-shedding of their Covenant-head, and by that alone, believers are sanctified.

"That He might sanctify the people." Ponder carefully, my reader, the definiteness of the language here used. Scripture knows nothing of a vague, general, undeterminable and futile shedding of the precious blood of the Lamb. No indeed: it had a predestined, specific, and invincible end in view. That blood was not shed for the whole human race at large (a considerable portion of which was already in Hell when Christ died!), but for "the people," each of whom are sanctified by it. It was for "the sheep" He laid down His life ( John 10:11). It was to gather together in one "the children of God that were scattered abroad" that He was slain ( John 11:51 , 52). It was for "His friends" He endured the cross ( John 15:13). It was for the Church He gave Himself ( Ephesians 5:25).


Verse 12

Outside the Camp

( Hebrews 13:12 , 13)

Were it not so pathetic and tragic, it would be most amusing if we could obtain and read a complete record of the manner in which our text has been employed by various individuals and groups during the last four hundred years—to go no farther back. The reader would thereby be supplied with a striking illustration of the fact that "There is no new thing under the sun" ( Ecclesiastes 1:9) and see how frequently history repeats itself. He would learn too how easily simple souls were beguiled by a plausible tongue and how successfully Satan deceives the unwary by the very letter of Scripture. He would discover how the different divisive movements in the ecclesiastical realm—whether in Poland, Germany, Great Britain, or the U.S.A.—all started in much the same way, followed the same course, and, we might add, met with a similar disappointing sequel. To be forewarned is to be forearmed: it is because the rank and the of the people do so little reading, and are so ignorant of religious history, that they so readily fall a prey to those with high spiritual pretensions.

Hebrews 13:13 has ever been a great favorite with those who started "Come out" movements. It has been used, or rather misused, again and again by ambitious Diotrephes, who desired to head some new party or cause. It has been made a sop for the conscience' by many a little group of discontented and disgruntled souls, who because of some grievance (fancied or real) against their religious leaders, church, or denomination, forsook them, and set up an independent banner of their own. It is a verse which has been called into the service of all separatists, who urged all whose confidence they could gain to turn away from—not the secular world, but their fellow-Christians, on the ground of trifling differences. That which these men urged their dupes to forsake was denounced as the God-abandoned and apostate "Camp," while the criticism they have (often justly) met with for their pharisaic conduct, has been smugly interpreted as "bearing Christ's reproach."

In his most interesting and instructive work, "The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity"—a standard work which long found a place in all well-furnished libraries—Richard Hooker, three hundred years ago, described the tactics followed by the Separatist leaders who preceded or were contemporaneous with him. We will give here a very brief digest of the same. First, in seeking to win the people's attention unto their "cause," these would-be Separatists, loudly proclaimed the faults and failings of those in high places, magnifying and reproving the same with much severity, and thereby obtaining the reputation of great faithfulness, spiritual discernment, love of holiness. Second, those faults and corruptions which have their roots in human frailty, are attributed to an unscriptural and evil ecclesiastical government, whereby they are regarded as possessing much wisdom in determining the cause of those sins they denounce: whereas in reality, the very failures they decry will adhere to any form of government which may be established.

Third, having thus obtained such sway in the hearts of their hearers, these men now propose their own form of church government (or whatever else they are pleased to designate their scheme or system), declaring with a great blowing of trumpets that it is the only sovereign remedy for the evils which poor Christendom is groaning under, embellishing the same with an ear-tickling name or designation. Fourth, they now "interpret" (?) the Scriptures in such a way that everything in them is made to favor their discipline, and discredit the contrary. Fifth, then they seek to persuade the credulous that they have been favored with a special illumination of the Spirit, whereby they are able to discern these things in the Word, while others reading it perceive them not. Sixth, assured that they are led by the Spirit "This hath bred high terms of separation between such and the rest of the world, whereby the one sort are termed, The brethren, The godly, and so forth; the other, worldlings, time-servers, pleasers of men not of God" (Hooker, Volume 1 , page 106).

Finally, the deceived are now easily drawn to become ardent propagators of their new tenets, zealous proselytizers, seeking to persuade others to leave the apostate "Camp" and join them on "the true scriptural ground." "Let any man of contrary opinion open his mouth to persuade them, and they close their ears: his reasons they weigh not, all is answered with ‘We are of God, He that knoweth God heareth us' ( 1 John 4:6), as for the rest, ye are of the world" (Hooker). Such was the policy pursued by the "Fifth Monarchy men," the "Brownists,' Thos. Cartwright and his following in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Such too was the course taken by John Kelly in Ireland, Alex. Campbell in Kentucky, more than a century ago—the latter founding "the Christian Church," denouncing all others as unscriptural. So that Mr. J.N. Darby followed a well-trodden path!

"Let us go forth therefore unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach." After mentioning the Christian's altar and the suffering and offering of Christ thereon, the apostle now draws an exhortation unto that duty which is the basis of our whole Christian profession. There are five things in this brief text which call for prayerful consideration. First, the exact force of its "therefore"—requiring us to ascertain the relation of our text to its setting. Second, what is signified here by "the camp," both as it concerned the Hebrews and as it respects us to-day. Third, in what sense we are to go forth from it. Fourth, how in so doing we go unto Christ. Fifth, by what means this duty is to be discharged.

"Let us go forth therefore unto Him without the camp." The duty which is here enjoined on the believer is drawn from what had just been declared: "Wherefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered without the gate" (verse 12). There were one or two points in that verse which we reserved for consideration in this article. First, with regard to the meaning of "sanctify." We cannot agree with those commentators (among them some for whom we have a high regard) that would here restrict it to "expiate:" we see no reason for this narrowing of its force. Personally, we consider the term has as wide a signification here as elsewhere in Scripture: by His perfect oblation Christ has separated His people from the world, purified them from all their iniquities, consecrated them to God, so that they stand before Him in all the acceptableness of their Head.

Many words have a wider scope in Scripture than in ordinary usage, and the expositor needs to be constantly on his guard against narrowing the meaning of important terms. It is blessedly true that at the cross the believer's Surety expiated all his sins, that Isaiah , cancelled their guilt, by making reparation to the Law; but it is the effects of that which are here in view. The sanctification of His people was the grand object which Christ had in view in becoming incarnate, and that He steadily pursued throughout the whole of His life and sufferings. The Church is now cleansed, set apart, and adorned by His atoning sacrifice. Christ sustained all the transgressions of His people, made atonement for them, removed the same from before God, and washed them from all defilement by His soul travail, bloody sweat, and death; and in consequence, they now stand before the Eye of infinite justice and holiness as everlastingly righteous, and pure.

Herein we may behold once more the outstanding excellency of Christianity above Judaism—something which we must ever be on the lookout for if we are not to miss the principal design of the Spirit in this epistle. These verses abound in details which exhibit the privileges of the new covenant as far surpassing those of the old. First, we have that "establishing of the heart" before God (verse 9) which the natural Israel possessed not. Second, we have "an altar" furnishing the highest and holiest sacrifice of all (verse 10), which they had no right or title to partake of: their sin offerings were burned, not eaten (verse 11). Third, we have an effectual and abiding sanctification of our souls before God, whereas they had a sanctification which was but external and evanescent "to the (ceremonial) purifying of the flesh" ( Hebrews 9:13). Fourth, Jesus has sanctified the people "with His own blood" (verse 12), which was something that the high priests of Judaism could never do—they offered to God the blood of others, even that of animals.

A further word now on the fact that the Savior "suffered without the gate," that Isaiah , outside of the city of Jerusalem which answered to the camp in the wilderness, wherein the tabernacle was first set up. Sundry things were represented thereby. First, this signified that He was not only a sacrifice for sin, but was being punished for sins, dealt with as a malefactor and dying that death which by Divine institution was a sign of the curse ( Galatians 3:13). "They took Jesus, and led Him away. And He bearing His cross went forth (out of Jerusalem) into a place called the place of a skull, which is called in the Hebrew Golgotha: where they crucified Him, and two with Him" ( John 19:16-18). This was done by the malice of the Jews, yet their wickedness was "by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God" ( Acts 2:23), so that it might appear Christ is the true sin-offering. Thus, God made the hatred of Satan and his agents to subserve His purpose and accomplish His own will—how the knowledge of this should comfort us when the wicked are plotting against us!

Second, in ordaining that His Son should be put to death outside the city of Jerusalem, symbolic intimation was thereby given by God to the Jews that He had put an end to all sacrificing in the temple, so far as their acceptance by Him was concerned: now that Christ Himself was laid on the altar, there was no longer any need for those offerings which prefigured Him. The shadow and the substance could not stand together: for the Levitical sacrifices to be continued after Christ's death would denote either that He had not come, or that His offering was not sufficient to obtain salvation. Third, Christ's going forth out of Jerusalem signified the end of the church-state of the Jews, and therefore as He left the city, He announced their destruction: see Luke 23:28-30. Very solemn was this: Christ was no longer "in the Church" of the Jews ( Acts 7:38), their house was now left unto them desolate ( Matthew 23:38). If, then, a Jew desired to partake of the benefits of the Messiah, he too must leave the camp—the whole temple system.

What a depth and breadth of meaning there is to every action of our blessed Redeemer! what important truths they illustrated and exemplified! How much we lose by failing to meditate upon the details of our Lord's passion! In addition to what had been pointed out above, we may observe, fourth, that Christ's offering Himself as a sin offering to God outside Jerusalem, clearly shows that His sacrifice and its benefits were not confined to the elect among the Jews, but extended equally unto the chosen remnant from the Gentiles. It was, then, yet another sign that "the middle wall of partition" was now broken down, that the barrier which had for so long existed between Judaism and the world no more existed. As 1John declared, "He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world"—for an exposition of which see our booklet on "The Atonement."

Thus, the force of the "therefore" in our text is not difficult to determine: because Jesus Himself "suffered without the gate, let us go forth therefore unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach." But to make it still more simple for the reader to comprehend, let us divide the "therefore" into its component parts. First and more generally, because Christ has left us an example, let us follow His steps. Second, since we partake of the food of our altar, let us use the strength therefrom in a way pleasing and glorifying to Christ. Third and more specifically, if the Son of God was willing to suffer the ignominy of being cast out of Jerusalem in order to bear our doom, surely it would ill-become the sons of God if they were unwilling to go forth and bear His reproach! Fourth, if Christ in obedience to God took the place of being scorned and hated by men, shall we in disobedience to Him seek to be esteemed and flattered by His enemies? Fifth, because Christ has "sanctified" us, let us evidence our separation from the ungodly.

"Let us go forth therefore unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach." The second thing requiring our careful consideration here is what is meant by "the camp." "The apostle, in all this epistle, hath respect unto the original institution of the Jewish church-state and worship in the wilderness. Therefore he confines his discourse to the tabernacle and the services of it, without any mention of the temple or the city wherein it was built, though all that he speaks be equally applicable unto them. Now the camp in the wilderness was that space of ground which was taken up by the tents of the people, as they were regularly pitched about the tabernacle. Out of this compass the bodies of the beasts for the sin-offerings were carried and burned. Hereunto afterwards answered the city of Jerusalem, as is evident in this place; for whereas in the foregoing verse, Christ is said to suffer ‘without the gate,' here He is said to be ‘without the camp': these being all one and the same as to the purpose of the apostle" (John Owen).

"The camp" of Israel, then, and later the city of Jerusalem, was the seat and center of the political and religious life of the Jewish church. To be in "the camp" was to have a right unto all the advantages and privileges of the commonwealth of Israel ( Ephesians 2:12) and the Divine service of the tabernacle. For to forfeit that right, for any cause, for a season, meant that the offender was taken out of the camp: Leviticus 14:3; 24:14; Numbers 5:2; 12:15. Now it was in that camp that Christ had been "despised and rejected" by the Nation. It was concerning that camp He had solemnly declared, "your house is left unto you desolate" ( Matthew 23:38). It was from that camp He had suffered Himself to be conducted, when He went forth to the Cross. Thus, at the time our epistle was written, "the camp" signified an apostate Judaism, which would have none of Christ, which hated and anathematized Him; and, in consequence, it was the place abandoned by God, given up by Him to destruction—for a generation later it ceased to be, even in a material and outward way.

But Judaism as such has long since passed away, what, then, is its present counterpart? The question should not be difficult to decide, though it meets with varied answers. Some say "the camp" is Romanism, and call attention to the many striking points of analogy between it and Judaism. Some say it is "the dead and carnal professing church"—from which, of course, their denomination is an exception. Others insist that it is "all the Prayer of Manasseh -made sects and systems of Christendom," from which they have withdrawn, only to set up another system of their own, even more pharisaical than those they denounce. But a single consideration is sufficient to dispose of all such vagaries—which have, in the past, misled the writer. Is Christ Himself hated and anathematised by either Rome or the deadest and most erroneous portions of Protestantism? The answer Isaiah , NO. We must turn to other scriptures (like Revelation 18:4,2Timothy 3:5) to learn God's will for us concerning Romanism or the carnal sects, for Hebrews 13:13 cannot be fairly applied to either of them. The very name of Christ was abhorred by Judaism, it is not so by either Rome or degenerate Protestantism.

Let us not be misunderstood at this point. We are not here expressing our views on the whole subject of the Christian's separation from what is dishonoring to Christ, nor are we holding a brief for the Papacy and her daughters. Admittedly Christendom is in a far worse state today than it was a century ago, and there is very much going on in it with which the follower of the Lord Jesus should have no fellowship; but that is a totally different thing from withdrawing from a company where there are many of God's people and where all the fundamentals of the Truth were faithfully Proverbs -claimed—think of denouncing Spurgeon's Tabernacle as a part of "Babylon," and refusing to allow those to "break bread" who occasionally attended its services! No; our present object is to define what "the camp" of Hebrews 13:13 actually signifies, and then to show how erroneously that term has been applied to something radically different.

As we have said above "the camp" was that degenerate Judaism which had hounded the Lord of glory to death, and which could not be appeased by anything less than putting Him to death as a base malefactor and blasphemer. It is readily conceded that not only may numerous points of analogy be drawn between Judaism and Romanism, but that large sections of degenerate Protestantism now have many things in common with it. But it was not its law, its priesthood, its ceremonialism, nor even its corruptions which caused God to give up Jerusalem unto destruction. The "camp" from which the apostle bade his readers "go forth" was a Judaism which had not only rejected Jesus as the Christ of God, denied that He was risen from the dead, but which also insisted that He was a vile impostor, and reviled His very name. But so far as we are aware, there is not a single church or company upon earth that professes to be "Christian" of whom that can be said!

The fact Isaiah , there is nothing upon earth today which exactly duplicates the Judaistic "camp" of the apostle's time. Yet there is that which essentially corresponds to it, even though externally it differs somewhat therefrom; and that is the world—the secular and profane world. Concerning it we read, "the whole world lieth in the Wicked one" ( 1 John 5:19). Those who comprise it are unregenerate, unholy, ungodly. It is true that one of the effects of Christianity has been to cast a veneer of morality and religious respectability over large sections of the world; though that veneer is now getting very thin. It is true that in some circles of it, it is still fashionable to feign respect for Divine things, yet, if the exacting claims of God be pressed upon them, it soon becomes apparent that the carnal mind is enmity against Him. But for the most part, Christ is openly hated by the masses, and His name fearfully blasphemed by them. And there it is that we are plainly told, "the friendship of the world is enmity with God: whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God" ( James 4:4).

Our next consideration Isaiah , In what sense is the Christian to "go forth" from the camp, i.e, from that which is avowedly and actively hostile to Christ? This question needs to be carefully considered, for here too the language of our text has been sadly wrested. Let us bring the point to a definite issue: is it a corporeal or a mental act which is here enjoined? is it by the body or the soul that the duty is performed? is it by our feet or our hearts that obedience is rendered? In other words, is it a "literal" or a metaphorical forsaking of the world which God requires from us? Those who made the serious mistake of supposing that it is the former, have betaken themselves to monasteries and convents. The explanatory and qualifying words of the apostle "for then (if separation from the wicked were to be taken absolutely) must ye needs go out of the world" ( 1 Corinthians 5:10) shows the error of this; contrary also would it be to the spirit of the Lord's prayer, "I pray not that Thou shouldest take them out of the world" ( John 17:15).

Let us consider the case of the Jews in the apostle's time. When one of them savingly believed on the Lord Jesus Christ was he required to "literally" or physically get out of Jerusalem? No indeed: even the apostles themselves continued to abide there ( Acts 8:1)! It was not a local departure which was intended—though a little later that was necessary if their lives were to be preserved ( Luke 21:30-32); rather was it a moral and religious going forth from the camp. "There was nothing that these Hebrews did more value and more tenaciously adhere unto, than that political and religious interest in the commonwealth of Israel. They could not understand how all the glorious privileges granted of old unto that church and people, should so cease as that they ought to forsake them. Hereon most of them continued in their unbelief of the Gospel, many would have mixed the doctrine of it with their old ceremonies, and the best of them found no small difficulty in their renunciation. But the apostle shows them, that by the suffering of Christ without the gate or camp, this they were called unto" (John Owen).

The application of this principle unto us today is not difficult to perceive. It may be stated thus: God requires us to forego and renounce all advantages and privileges—whether social, financial, political, or religious—which are inconsistent with an interest in Christ, communion with Him, or fidelity to His cause. An illustration of this is furnished in Philippians 3:4-10: those things which Saul of Tarsus had formerly counted gain—his Jewish birth and orthodoxy, his pharisaic strictness and righteousness, his persecution of the Church—he now "counted loss for Christ." The same thing obtains now in heathendom: when a Parsee, Buddhist, Mohammedan (or a Jew, or a Romanist) is truly converted, he has to turn his back upon, relinquish those things which he had hitherto most highly venerated. Love to Christ moves him to now hate those things which are directly opposed to Him.

Now for the fourth point in our text: by going forth from the camp we go "unto Him," or, conversely, by going forth unto Christ we go outside the camp. The two things are inseparable: they are convertible terms. We cannot go unto, without going from, and we cannot go "from" without going "unto." This is exactly what conversion is: a turning round, a right-about face. It is the heart turning from Satan to God, from sin to holiness, from things below to things above, from "the camp" unto Christ. That which is opposed to the Lord Jesus is renounced for His sake. The world is left, and He is followed. Self-righteousness is dropped that an band may lay hold of His atoning sacrifice. To "go forth unto Him" is to betake ourselves to Christ in His office as the Prophet, Priest, and King of His Church, and thereby find acceptance with God. It is to cleave unto and own Him under the contempt and opposition of those who despise and reject Him.

To go forth unto Christ without the camp, then, signifies for us to be so enlightened by the Spirit as for the eyes of our understanding to see Him as the promised Messiah, the only Mediator between God and men; to behold the One whom the Jews and Gentiles condemned to a malefactor's death, as the all-sufficient Savior. It is for the heart to be attracted by the supernal excellencies of His person, to be won by Him, the soul perceiving Him to be "the Fairest of ten thousand." It is for the will to be brought into subjection of Him, so that His yoke is gladly accepted and His scepter readily submitted to. In a word, it is to heartily approve of Him whom the world still hates, becoming His humble follower, His willing disciple, and gladly enduring for His sake all the ridicule and persecution which fidelity to Him and His cause entails. Like the Gadarenes of old, the professing world now says to Him "Depart out of our coasts" ( Mark 5:17), but those who go forth unto Him exclaim, "my Beloved is mine, and I am His" ( Song of Solomon 2:16).


Verse 13-14

Outside the Camp

( Hebrews 13:13 , 14)

In the preceding article we endeavored to make clear to the reader exactly what was "the camp" from which the apostle exhorted the Hebrews to go forth. The more accurately a term be defined, the less likelihood of its being wrongly employed. It was at this point the present writer failed in an article which appeared in an issue nearly ten years ago—many a sound sermon has been marred by heading it with the wrong text. Dwelling upon many of the incidental analogies which exist between much that now obtains in Christendom and that which marked Judaism of old, we failed to concentrate upon that which was essential and fundamental, and hence, made a wrong application of this particular term "the camp." That which made the Judaism of Paul's day to differ so radically from its worst state in the times of the prophets, was, that it had hated, rejected, and murdered the incarnate Son of God.

It is that particular point, the Jews' casting out of Christ, anathematizing Him, condemning Him to a malefactor's death, which must guide us when seeking to identify the modem counterpart of that "camp." There Isaiah , really, no exact replica on earth today of that Judaism which crucified the Lord Jesus: certainly neither Romanism—blasphemous and horrible as are many of its dogmas and practices—nor the most degenerate branches of Protestantism—rotten as some of them are in doctrine and works—can rightly be designated the present-day "camp." No, as we pointed out previously, that which most closely resembles it, that which in principle is essentially like thereto, is the secular, profane world. Its unregenerate and ungodly members do not profess to love Christ: the very mention of Him is hateful to them: they desire to banish Him entirely from their schemes and thoughts—except when they take His holy name in vain.

Next, we sought to show in what sense the Lord requires His people to go forth "outside the camp," that Isaiah , separate themselves from the ungodly, from those who hate and revile Christ. This, as we saw, is not to be understood "literally" or physically, but metaphorically or morally. It is not a local withdrawal from the world, but a religious and spiritual one. In other words, God does not bid His people be fanatics and lead the lives of hermits. Taking refuge in monasteries and convents is the Devil's perversion of this important practical truth. No; the Christian is still left in the world, but he must not be of it. Its policy and maxims must not regulate him, its pleasures and attractions must not capture his heart, its friendship must not be sought; its politics are no concern of his. In heart and soul-interests he is a stranger here, and is to conduct himself as a pilgrim passing through this scene—"using this world, but not abusing it" ( 1 Corinthians 7:31).

Then we pointed out that in going forth from the camp the Christian goes unto Christ: it is the two-foldness of act which the word "conversion" connotes. Yet it is not without reason that the Holy Spirit has worded our text as it is: there is a particular emphasis in it which requires to be noted. It is not, "Let us go forth therefore without the camp unto Him," but "unto Him without the camp." The difference is something more than verbal. It stresses the fact that Christ Himself must be the grand object before the heart, and then the poor baubles of this world will not possess much attraction for us. If He is not, then, though we may become aesthetes, there will be no contentment, still less joy: our case would be like that of many of the Israelites who had "gone forth" from Egypt, yet continued to lust after its fleshpots.

To go forth unto Christ without the camp means for the believer to make a complete break from his former manner of life, to renounce every thing which is opposed to Christ, to relinquish whatever would hinder communion with Him. In a word, the exhortation of our text is only another way of presenting that declaration of our Lord, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me" ( Matthew 16:24). Sin must be mortified, the flesh with its affections and lusts crucified, the world forsaken, and the example which Christ has left us diligently followed. Song of Solomon , then, going forth unto Him outside the camp is not a single Acts , done once for all at conversion, but an habitual thing, a constant attitude of life. The cross must be taken up by the Christian "daily:" Luke 9:23.

Obedience to this injunction involves "bearing Christ's reproach." The believer is called unto fellowship with Christ: fellowship now with His sufferings ( Philippians 3:10), in the future with His glory. That "reproach" assumes different forms and has various degrees in different locations and periods, according as God is pleased to restrain the enmity of the wicked against His people. But in every age and in every place it has been verified that "all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" ( 2 Timothy 3:12). That "persecution," that "reproach" of Christ may be cruel afflictions such as the early Christians experienced; or it may take the milder form of sneers, ridicule, and ostracism, which sensitive souls feel keenly. As Christ declared, "The servant is not greater than his Lord. If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you" ( John 15:20). One reason why God permits this, is because His people are so prone to flirt with the world, and if we will not separate from them, He often causes them to give us the cold shoulder and appose us.

The flesh shrinks from and desires to escape such opposition. It is natural for us to want to be well thought of and nicely treated by every one. But let the shrinking Christian call to mind what his Master endured for his sake. In the types, the sin-offering was burned without the camp—far off from the holy of holies where Jehovah had His seat—to represent the sinner's final separation from God, his being cast into "the outer darkness," there to suffer the vengeance of eternal fire. And Christ endured the equivalent of that on the cross, during those three hours of awful darkness. He bore the fearful load of His people's sins, and was deprived of the comforts of God's presence. For Christ it meant entering the place of distance from God, but for us to "go forth without the camp" means going "unto Him"; for Him it entailed enduring the curse, for us it involves naught but Divine blessing! Then let us cleave to Him despite the world's scorn, and stand by His cause on earth no matter what the cost to us.

But let us now consider by what means this duty of going forth unto Christ is discharged. As we pointed out in the preceding article, it is an act of the soul rather than of the body which is here in view. But to particularize. First, the soul of the believer goes forth to Christ by prayer, for real prayer is the breathing of the heart after Him and turning unto Him. Its first cry is "Lord, save me, I perish." There is the daily request for Him to make Himself more real to the heart, to grant us closer communion with Himself, and to remove those things which hinder the same. There is the asking Him to teach us how to draw from His fullness, to make us more obedient, to conform us more fully to His holy image. "Let Him kiss me with the kisses of His mouth: for Thy love is better than wine" ( Song of Solomon 1:2) is the language of one whose heart is "going forth unto Christ outside the camp"—seeking from Him that which is infinitely superior to the best this poor world affords.

Second, it is the motion of faith. Christ is the grand Object of faith, and He can only be known and enjoyed now by faith. It was so at our first conversion; it is so throughout the entire Christian course. "The life which I now live in the flesh," said the apostle, "I live by the faith of the Son of God (faith in Him), who loved me, and gave Himself for me" ( Galatians 2:20). When faith is inactive, there is no going forth of the soul unto Christ, no real prayer, no communion with Him. But when faith is operative the heart turns unto Him as instinctively as the needle of the compass does unto the north. When faith is sickly and listless the things of this world gain power over us: either its pleasures attract, or its cares distract us. But when faith is healthy and vigorous, the soul "mounts up with wings as eagles" and "runs and is not weary." It is faith which makes Christ real and precious to the soul. Then let us be more diligent in guarding against those things which weaken and quench it.

Third, going forth unto Christ outside the camp is the act of hope. This is the particular spiritual grace which keeps the heart of the believer from falling into abject despair. There are times when he is sorely tried and dismayed: sin rages within, the accusations of the holy Law sting his conscience, and Satan tries hard to make him believe that all is lost—that having abused his privileges, sinned against much light, turned Divine grace into lasciviousness, there is no remedy. So it seems to the cast-down soul: pray he cannot, and as he reads the Scriptures, instead of finding comfort every page condemns him. Then the Spirit applies some promise, and a little encouragement follows: but conscience still smites, and he groans. Now it is that hope acts: Christ had mercy on the leper, the publican, the dying thief; He is full of compassion, I will cast myself afresh on His pity. So too hope looks beyond this scene—with all its disappointments, sorrows, and sufferings—and anticipates the time when we shall be "forever with the Lord."

Fourth, going forth unto Christ without the camp is also the work of love. The love of God which the Spirit sheds abroad in the hearts of the regenerate is something more than beautiful sentiment: it is an operative principle. Love yearns for the company of the beloved: it cannot find satisfaction elsewhere. Christ is not to be met with in worldly circles, and therefore when the heart of the believer is in a healthy state, it seeks unto its Beloved outside the same. A word from His lips, a smile from His face, an embrace from His arms, is prized above rubies. To sit at His feet and drink from the fountain of His love, is better than heaps of silver and gold. Christ is precious to those whose sins have been removed by His blood, and their affections "go forth" unto Him—not so fervently and frequently as they should, or as they desire; nevertheless, there are seasons in the life of every Christian when he is permitted to lean his head upon the Savior's bosom. Christ's love to His own attracts their love to Him.

Fifth, going forth unto Christ outside the camp is the surrender of the will to Him. There is a change of masters: service to the prince of this world is renounced, and the Lordship of Christ accepted. There is an enlisting under His banner, a putting on of His uniform, a submission to His captaincy, and we act according to His will. How different is all of this from what many suppose our text signifies! One may identify himself with those who claim to have gone forth from "all the Prayer of Manasseh -made sects and systems," and yet the heart be quite dead toward God. Or, one may belong to the most orthodox church, subscribe to its doctrines, adopt their language, echo its groans, and have not a spark of grace in the heart. One may separate from all the world's politics, pastimes and pleasures, and have no love for Christ. There must be the exercise of faith, the stirrings of hope, the actings of love, the surrender of the will, and walking in the path of obedience, in order to meet the terms of our text.

"For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come" (verse 14). Four questions are suggested by these words: what is their relation to the preceding verse? what is signified by "no continuing city"? what is the "one to come" that we seek? how or in what way do we seek it? That there is a close connection between verse 14and the previous one is obvious from its opening word. Now that connection is twofold: first, verse 14supplies two further reasons to enforce the duty specified in verse 13—additional to those implied in verses 10-12; second, verse 14may also be regarded as explaining and amplifying the language of verse 13.

The connection of verse 14with verse 13will be more apparent as we turn to the second question and consider what is signified by "For here have we no continuing city." Obviously, the "city" is used here metaphorically, as a figure of that which is strong and stable: it is that which provides refuge and rest to the great majority of earth's inhabitants. "Change and decay in all around I see" said the poet: there is nothing lasting, durable, dependable in this world. In Genesis 4:17 we read that Cain "builded a city," and where is it?—destroyed thousands of years ago by the Flood. Thebes, Nineveh, Babylon were all powerful and imposing cities in their day, but where are they now? they no longer exist, yea, their very site is disputed. Such is this world, my reader: "the fashion of this world passeth away" ( 1 Corinthians 7:31), and one day "the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up" ( 2 Peter 3:10).

The things of this earth are transitory: that which the natural man values so highly, and sells his soul to obtain, soon vanishes away. All that is mundane is unstable and uncertain: that is the meaning, in brief, of "here have we no continuing city." There is however an emphasis in these words which we must not miss: it is not simply "here there is no continuing city" but "here have we'' none—something which can be predicated of none but believers. True, the worldling has none in reality, but in his imagination, his plans, his affections, he has—he sets his heart upon the things of this world and acts as though he would enjoy them always: "Their inward thought Isaiah , that their houses shall continue forever, and their dwelling-places to all generations: they call their lands after their own names" ( Psalm 49:11). And how is the instability of everything mundane to affect and influence the Christian? Thus: he is to renounce them in his heart—leave "the camp"—that is the connection with verse 13.

"For here have we no continuing city" (verse 14). "A city is the center of men's interests and privileges, the residence and seat of their conversation. Hereby are they freed from the condition of strangers and pilgrims; and have all that rest and security in this world they are capable. For those who have no higher aims nor ends than this world, a city is their all. Now it is not said of believers absolutely that they belonged to no city, had none that was theirs in common with other men; for our apostle himself pleaded that he was a citizen of no mean city. This is intimated, as we shall see, in the restriction of the assertion: a continuing city. But it is spoken on other accounts" (John Owen). What those "other accounts" are we shall see presently, meanwhile we will consider the more general meaning.

In His providential dealings with them, God often gives His people painful reminders of the fact that "here have we no continuing city." We are prone to be at ease in Zion, to fix our hearts on things below, to settle down in this world. We like to feel that we are anchored for a while at least, and make our plans accordingly. But God blows upon our schemes and compels us to take up the stakes of our tents, saying, "Arise ye, and depart; for this is not your rest; because it is polluted" ( Micah 2:10). A significant word on this is found in, "As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings; so the Lord alone did lead him" ( Deuteronomy 32:11 , 12). Ah, my reader, it is not a pleasant experience to have our earthly "nest" stirred up, to have our rest disturbed, and be obliged to change our abode; but as that is essential if the eaglets are to be taught to use their wings, so it is necessary for the Christian if he is to live as a stranger and pilgrim in this scene.

God has called His people unto fellowship with Christ, and that means something more than participating in His life and receiving His peace and joy: it also involves entering into His experiences—enduring the wrath of God alone excepted. "When He putteth forth His own sheep, He goeth before them, and the sheep follow Him" ( John 10:4). That denotes two things: that we are not called to tread any path which He did not Himself, traverse, and that we are to experience something of His sorrows: are they which have continued with Me in My temptations" or "trials" ( Luke 22:28). Now what was Christ's experience in this word? Even as a child He had no rest here: His parents had to carry Him down into Egypt in order to escape the malice of Herod. Trace the record of His earthly ministry, and how long do we find Him abiding in one place? He was constantly on the move. "Jesus therefore being wearied with His journey sat thus on the well" ( John 4:6), and in some form or other His people are required to drink from that same cup. If the Lord of glory "had not where to lay His head" when in this world, shall we deem it strange that God so often disturbs our rest?

But let us now consider the more specific meaning of our text. First, the Christian has no city on earth which is the center of Divine worship, whereunto it is confined, as had been the case with Judaism. Herein the apostle points another contrast. After the Israelites had wandered for many years in the wilderness, they were brought to rest in Canaan, where Jerusalem became their grand center, and of that city the Jews had for long boasted. But it was not to continue, for within ten years of the writing of this epistle, that city was destroyed. How this verse gives the lie to the pretentions of Rome! No, the Christian has something far better than an insecure and non-continuing city on earth, even the Father's House, with its many mansions, eternal in the heavens!

Second, the believer has no city on earth which supplies him with those things which are his ultimate aim: deliverance from all his enemies, an end to all his trials, an eternal resting-place. His "commonwealth" or "citizenship" is "in Heaven" ( Philippians 3:20 R.V.). The Christian does not regard this world as his fixed abode or final home. This is what gives point to the preceding exhortation and explains the force of the opening "For" in verse 14. The fact that everything here is unstable and uncertain should spur the Christian to go forth from the camp—in his heart renounce the world. And further, it should make him willing to "bear the reproach of Christ," even though that involves being driven from his birthplace and compelled to wander about without any fixed residence on earth. Finally, it gives point, as we shall see, to the last clause of our text.

"But we seek one to come" (verse 14). In view of what has been before us, it is quite clear that the "one," the City, that we seek, is Heaven itself, various aspects of which are suggested by the figure here used of it. It is an abiding, heavenly, everlasting "City," which the believer seeks, and the same is referred to again and again in this epistle—in contrast from the temporal and transitory nature of Judaism—under various terms and figures. This "City" is the same as the "better and enduring substance" in Heaven of Hebrews 10:34. It is that "Heavenly Country" of Hebrews 11:16. It is "the City of the living God" of Hebrews 12:22 , the seat and center of Divine worship. It is the same as "those things which cannot be shaken" of Hebrews 12:27. It is "the Kingdom which cannot be moved," in its final form, of Hebrews 12:28. It is the "Inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in Heaven for us" ( 1 Peter 1:4).

An earlier reference to this grand object of the believer's desire and quest was before us in "he looked for a City which hath foundations, whose Builder and Maker is God" ( Hebrews 11:10). Those "foundations" are, First, the everlasting good-will and pleasure of God toward His people, which is the basis of all His dealings with them. Second, God's foreordination, whereby He predestined His elect unto eternal glory, concerning which we are told "The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal: The Lord knoweth them that are His" ( 2 Timothy 2:19). Third, the Everlasting Covenant of free, rich, and sovereign Grace, which God entered into with the Head and Surety of the elect, and which is "ordered in all things and sure." Fourth, the infinite merits and purchase of Christ, for "other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ" ( 1 Corinthians 3:11). Fifth, the whole being confirmed by and resting upon the immutable stability of God's promise and oath: Hebrews 6:17-20.

In addition to the few brief remarks we made upon the signification of this figure of the "City" when expounding Hebrews 11:10 , we may note the following—bearing in mind those characteristics of a "city" which specially obtained in ancient times. First, a city was a place of safety and security: "let us go to Jerusalem for fear of the army of the Chaldeans, and for fear of the army of the Syrians: so we dwell at Jerusalem" ( Jeremiah 35:11). In Heaven there will be no wicked men to persecute, no Devil to tempt. Second, a city is compact, being the concentration of numerous houses and homes. So of Heaven Christ declared that in it are "many mansions." There will dwell together forever the myriads of holy angels and the entire Church of God. Third, in a city is stored all manner of provisions and needful commodities; so in Heaven there is nothing lacking to minister unto the delights of its inhabitants.

Finally, as a "city" on earth is the center of the world's interests and privileges, the resting-place of travelers and those who go abroad, so Heaven will be the grand Terminal to the wanderings and journeyings of the Christian. His pilgrimage is ended, for Home is reached. On earth he was a stranger and sojourner, but now he has reached the Father's House. There he will meet with no hardships, encounter none to whom he is a hated foreigner, and no longer have to earn his daily bread by the sweat of his brow. Unbroken rest, perfect freedom, unassailable security, congenial society, inconceivable delights, are now his portion forever. Faith then gives place to sight, hope to fruition, grace is swallowed up in glory, and we are "forever with the Lord," beholding His glory, bathing in the ocean of His love.

How the anticipation of this should make us set our affection on things above, spur us on to run the race before us, cause us to drop every weight which hinders us in running! How the consideration and contemplation of that "City" should work powerfully in us to look and long, and prepare us for the same! This brings us to ponder for a moment the meaning of "but we seek one to come." This, of course, does not signify that the believer is searching after that which is unknown, but endeavoring to obtain it. It is the treading of that Narrow Way which leads to Heaven, and that with diligence and desire, which is hereby denoted. "And God hath prepared a city of rest for us, so it is our duty continually to endeavor the attainment of it, in the ways of His appointment. The main business of believers in this world is diligently to seek after the attainments of eternal rest with God, and this is the character whereby they may be known" (John Owen).

Here, then, is the use which the believer makes of the uncertainty and instability of everything in this world: his heart is fixed on the Home above, and to get safely there is his great concern. The word "seek" in our text is a very strong one: it is used in, "after all these things (the material necessities of this life) do the Gentiles seek" ( Matthew 6:32)—i.e, seek with concentrated purpose, earnest effort, untiring zeal. The same word is also rendered "labor" in Hebrews 4:11: the Christian deems no task too arduous, no sacrifice too much, no loss too great, if he may but "win Christ" ( Philippians 3:8). He knows that Heaven will richly compensate him for all the toils and troubles of the journey which lead thither. "Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go no more out" ( Revelation 3:12).


Verse 15

The Christian's Sacrifices

( Hebrews 13:15 , 16)

The verses which are now to engage our attention are closely related with those which immediately precede, as is intimated by the "therefore." The links of connection may be set forth thus. First, "We have an Altar" (verse 10); what use are we to make of it? the answer Isaiah , offer sacrifice thereon. Second, Jesus has sanctified His people "with His own blood" (verse 12). What is to be their response? the answer Isaiah , draw night to God as joyous worshippers. Third, we must go forth unto Christ "without the camp." What then, is to be our attitude towards those who despise and reject Him? The answer Isaiah , not one of malice, but benevolence, doing good unto all as we have opportunity and occasion. Such, in brief, is the relation between our present portion and its context.

Calvin suggested, we believe rightly, that the apostle here anticipated an objection which might have been made against what he had previously advanced. In saying that Jesus "suffered without the gate" (verse 11), plain intimation was given that God had done with, abandoned Judaism as such. In bidding Hebrew believers to go forth unto Christ "without the camp," the Holy Spirit signified they must now turn their backs upon the temple and its service. But this presented a serious difficulty: all the sacrifices—those of thanksgiving as well as those of expiation—were inseparably connected with the temple system, therefore it followed that if the temple was to be deserted, the sacrifices also must have ceased. It was to meet this difficulty, and to make known the superior privileges of Christianity, that the apostle penned our text.

If the Christian was debarred from offering any sacrifice to God, then he would occupy an inferior position and be deprived of a privilege which the Jews of old enjoyed, for sacrifices were instituted for the purpose of celebrating God's worship. The apostle therefore shows that another kind of sacrifice remains for us to offer, which is no less pleasing to God than those which He appointed of old, even the praise of our lips. Here we are taught what is the legitimate way of worshipping God under the new covenant, which presents another striking contrast from that which obtained under the old. As our "Altar" is not one of wood or stone, brass or gold, but Christ Himself, so our "sacrifices" are not the fruits of the ground or the firstlings of our herds, but the adoration of our hearts and the devotion of our lives. The contrast, then, is between the outward and ceremonial and the inward and spiritual.

The Jews offered to God a slain lamb each morning and evening, and on certain special days bullocks and rams; but the Christian is to present unto God a continual sacrifice of thanksgiving. This brings before us a most interesting and blessed subject, namely, those sacrifices of the Christian with which God is well pleased. The first of these was mentioned by David: "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise" ( Psalm 51:17). "When the heart mourns for sins God is better pleased than when the bullock bleeds beneath the axe. ‘A broken heart' is an expression implying deep sorrow, embittering the very life; it carries in it the idea of all but killing anguish in that region which is so vital as to be the very source of life. A heart crushed Isaiah , to God, a fragrant heart. Men condemn those who are contemptible in their own eyes, but the Lord seeth not as man seeth. He despises what man esteems, and values that which they despise. Never yet has God spurned a lowly, weeping penitent" (C.H. Spurgeon).

John Owen pointed out that there were two things in connection with the O.T. sacrifices: the slaying and shedding of the blood of the beast, and then the actual offering of it upon the altar. Both of these were required in order to the completing of a sacrifice. On the one hand, the mere killing of the animal was no sacrifice unless its blood was placed upon the altar; and on the other hand, no blood could be presented there to God until it had been actually shed. Corresponding to these, there is a twofold spiritual sacrifice in connection with the Christian profession. The first is what has just been made reference to in the paragraph above: the broken heart and contrite spirit of the believer. That signifies evangelical repentance and mortification, or the crucifixion of the flesh, which is the Christian's first sacrifice, answering to the death of the beast before the altar.

The second sacrifice which the believer presents unto God is his offering of Christ each day. This is done by an act of faith—which is ever preceded by repentance, just as we must feel ourselves to be desperately sick before we send for the physician. As the awakened sinner is convicted of sin and mourns for it before God, pride and self-righteousness are subdued, and he is able to appreciate the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the (elect) world. Christ appears to him as exactly suited to his case and need. He perceives that He was wounded for his transgressions and bruised for his iniquities. He perceives that Christ took his place and endured the penal wrath of God on his behalf. Therefore does he now lay hold of him by faith and present the atoning sacrifice of Christ to God as the only ground of his acceptance. And as he begins, so he continues. A daily sense of defilement leads to a daily pleading of Christ's blood before the throne of grace. There is first the appropriating of Christ, and then the presenting of Him to God as the basis of acceptance.

Now it is this laying hold of Christ and the offering of Him to God in the arms of faith which corresponds to the second thing in connection with the tabernacle (and temple) sacrifices of old. As the fire fell upon the oblation placed upon the altar, incense was mingled therewith, so that the whole yielded a "sweet savor unto God." Just as the mere slaying of the animal was not sufficient—its blood must be laid upon the altar and fragrant incense be offered therewith; so the Christian's sacrifice of a broken and contrite heart will not by itself secure the favor of God. Essential as repentance Isaiah , it cannot purchase anything from God. The broken heart must lay hold of Christ, exercise faith in His blood ( Romans 3:25), and plead His merits before God. Only then will our sacrifice of a contrite spirit be a "sweet smelling savor" unto Him.

The third sacrifice which the Christian presents unto God is himself. "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service" ( Romans 12:1). That is an act of consecration. It is the recognition and acknowledgement that I am no longer my own, that I have been bought with a price, that I am the purchased property of Another. Hence, of the primitive saints we read that they "first gave their own selves to the Lord" ( 2 Corinthians 8:5), surrendering themselves to His scepter, taking upon themselves His yoke, henceforth to live to His glory; that as they had formerly served sin and pleased self, now they would serve God and seek only His honor. As Christ gave Himself for us, we now give ourselves back again to Him. Hereby alone can we know that we are saved: not only by believing in Christ for the forgiveness of sins, but by yielding ourselves up to His government, as living sacrifices for His use.

The fourth sacrifice of the Christian is that mentioned in our text, namely, "the fruit of our lips"; but before taking up the same let us say a few words on the order of what has now been before us. There can be no acceptable sacrifice of praise until we have offered ourselves unto God as those that are alive from the dead, for as Psalm 115:17 declares, "The dead praise not the Lord." No, those who are yet in their sins cannot praise God, for they have no love for Him and no delight in Him. The heart must first be made right before it is attuned to make melody unto Him. God accepts not the lip service of those whose hearts are estranged from Him. Of old He complained "This people draw near Me with their mouth, and with their lips do honor Me, but have removed their heart far from Me" ( Isaiah 29:13), and as Christ affirmed "in vain do they worship" Him ( Matthew 15:8). Such hypocrisy is hateful to Him.

Nor can any man present himself acceptably to God until he has believingly embraced Christ. No matter how willing I am to live honestly in the future, satisfaction must be made for the debts contracted in the past; and nothing but the atoning work of Christ can satisfy the just demands which the Law has against us. Again; how can I serve in the King's presence unless I be suitably attired? and nothing short of the robe of righteousness which Christ purchased for His people can gratify God's holy eye. Again; how could God Himself accept from me service which is utterly unworthy of His notice and that is constantly defiled by the corrupt nature still within me, unless it were presented in the meritorious name of the Mediator and cleansed by His precious blood. We must, then, accept Christ's sacrifice before God will accept ours; God's rejection of Cain's offering is clear proof thereof.

Equally evident is it, yet not so clearly perceived today by a defectively-visioned Christendom, that no sinner can really accept Christ's sacrifice until his heart be broken by a felt sense of his grievous offenses against a gracious God, and until his spirit be truly contrite before Him. The heart must be emptied of sin before there is room for the Savior. The heart must renounce this evil world before a holy Christ will occupy it. It is a moral impossibility for one who is still in love with his lusts and the willing servant of the Devil to appropriate Christ and present Him to God for his acceptance. Thus, the order of the Christian's sacrifices is unchanging. First, we bow in the dust before God in the spirit of genuine repentance; then we appropriate Christ as His gracious provision, and present Him to God for the obtaining of His favor. Then we yield ourselves to Him unreservedly as His purchased property; and then we render praise and thanksgiving for His amazing grace toward us.

"By Him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that Isaiah , the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His name" (verse 15). This is an exhortation to duty, by way of inference from what was declared concerning the Redeemer and the sanctification of the people by His sufferings. Therein we are shown what use we are to make of our Altar, namely, offer sacrifice. The worship which the Christian presents unto God is the sacrifice of praise. Nothing is more pleasing unto Him, and nothing is more honoring to Him, than the praise of a renewed heart. Has He not declared, "Whoso offereth praise glorifieth Me"? ( Psalm 50:23). How thankful for that statement should those believers be who feel themselves to be poor and feeble. Had God said, whoso shall create a world, or even whoso shall preach wonderful sermons and be a successful winner of souls, or whoso shall give a huge sum of money to missions, they might well despair. But "whoso offereth praise" opens a wide door of entrance to every believer.

And have not the redeemed abundant cause for praising God! First, because He has granted them a vital and experimental knowledge of Himself. How the excellencies of God's being, character and attributes, thrill, as well as awe, the souls of the saints! Glance for a moment at Psalm 145 , which is entitled a "Psalm of Praise." David begins with "I will extol Thee, my God, O King; and I will bless Thy name for ever and ever. Every day will I bless Thee, and I will praise Thy name for ever and ever. Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised" (verses 1-3). In the verses that follow, one perfection of God after another passes in review and stirs the soul to adoration. His "mighty acts" (verse 4), the "glorious honor of His majesty" (verse 5), His "greatness" (verse 6), His "great goodness" and "righteousness" (verse 7), His "fullness of compassion" and "great mercy" (verse 8), His "power" (verse 11), the "glorious majesty of His kingdom" (verse 12), His everlasting "dominion" (verse 13), His providential blessings (verses 14-17), His dealings in grace with His own (verses 18 , 19), His preserving them (verse 20). No wonder the Psalmist closed with, "my mouth shall speak the praise of the Lord, and let all flesh bless His holy name for ever and ever."

If the Psalm be full of suitable petitions for us to present unto God in prayer, and if they contain language well fitted for the lips of the sobbing penitent, yet they also abound in expressions of gladsome worship. "Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises unto our King, sing praises. For God is the King of all the earth: sing ye praises with understanding" ( Psalm 47:6 , 7). What vehemency of soul is expressed there! Four times over in one verse the Psalmist called upon himself (and us) to render praise unto the Lord, and not merely to utter it, but to "sing" the same out of an overflowing heart. In another place the note of praise is carried to yet a higher pitch: "Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice ye righteous; and shout for joy, all ye that are upright in heart" ( Psalm 32:11). Not in any formal and perfunctory manner is the great God to be praised, but heartily, joyously, merrily. "Sing forth the honor of His name: make His praise glorious" ( Psalm 66:2). Then let us offer Him nothing less than glorious praise.

The "therefore" of our text intimates an additional reason why we should praise God: because of Christ and His so great salvation. For our sakes the Beloved of the Father took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made under the Law. For our sakes the Lord of glory, entered into unfathomable depths of shame and humiliation, so that He cried "I am a worm and no man" ( Psalm 22:6). For our sakes He bowed His back to the cruel smiter and offered His blessed face to those who plucked off the hair. For our sakes He entered into conflict with the Prince of Darkness, and the pains of death. For our sakes He endured the awful curse of the Law, and for three hours was forsaken by God. No Christian reader can reverently contemplate such mysteries and marvels without being stirred to the depths of his soul. And then, as he seeks to contemplate what the shame and sufferings of Christ have secured for him, "Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable Gift," must be the fervent exclamation of his heart.

And observe well, dear reader, how God has allotted to Christ the position of chief honor in connection with our subject. "By Him (the One mentioned in verses 12 , 13) let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God." As the Lord Jesus Himself declared, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life: no man cometh unto the Father but by Me" ( John 14:6). The saints can no more draw nigh unto God apart from Christ, than the sinner can: we are as dependent upon His mediation to render our worship acceptable to God, as we were at first for obtaining the forgiveness of our sins. As our great High Priest Christ is the "Minister of the Sanctuary" ( Hebrews 8:2). He meets us, as it were, at the door of the heavenly temple, and we place our spiritual sacrifices in His hands, that He may, in the sweet fragrance of His merits and perfections, present them for God's acceptance. "Another Angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto Him much incense, that He should offer it with the prayers of all saints" ( Revelation 8:3).

At every point God has made us dependent upon Christ, the Mediator. Only by Him can we offer acceptable sacrifices unto God. First, because it is through Christ's bloodshedding, and that alone, that our persons have been sanctified, or made acceptable to God—note how in Genesis 4:4 Jehovah had respect first to Abel himself, and then to his offering! Second, because it is through Christ's atonement, and that alone, that a new and living way has been opened for us into God's presence: see Hebrews 10:19-21. Third, because He bears "the iniquity of our holy things" (fulfilling the type in Exodus 28:38), that Isaiah , through His perfect oblation our imperfect offerings are received by God: His merits and intercession cancel their defects. Fourth, because as the Head of the Church, He ministers before God on behalf of its members, presenting their worship before Him. Thus, "By Him" signifies, under His guidance, through His mediation, and by our pleading His merits for acceptance with God.

What has just been before us supplies further proof of what was pointed out in an earlier paragraph, namely, that it is impossible for the unregenerate to worship God acceptably. "The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord" ( Proverbs 15:8). And why? Not only because he is utterly sinful in himself, but because there is no Mediator to come between him and God. This is brought out strikingly in the O. T. types. Not a single "song" is recorded in the book of Genesis. In Eden our first parents were fitted to sing unto their Creator, and join the angels in ascribing glory and thanksgiving to the Lord. But after the Fall, sinners could only praise on the ground of redeeming grace, and it is not until Exodus is reached that we have the grand type of redemption. That book opens with Israel in Egypt, groaning and crying in the house of bondage. Next, the paschal lamb was slain, Egypt was left behind, the Red Sea was crossed, and on its farther shore they looked back and saw all their enemies drowned: "Then sang Moses and the children of Israel" ( Exodus 15:1). Praise, then, is on the ground of redemption.

"By Him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise." Every word of Holy Writ is inspired of God, and throughout, its language is chosen with Divine discrimination. Therefore it behooves us to carefully weigh each of its terms, or we shall miss their finer shades of meaning. Here is a case in point: it is not "let us render praise unto God," but "let us offer a sacrifice of praise." Christ has made His people "kings and priests unto God" ( Revelation 1:6), and here they are called upon to exercise their priestly functions. Thus we are instructed to make a right use of our "Altar" (verse 10). We are not only partakers of its privileges, but we are to discharge its duties, by bringing our sacrifices thereto. The same aspect of truth is seen again in 1Peter 2:5 , where we read that believers are "an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ." Yes, offered "unto God" and not to angels or saints; and, acceptable "by Jesus Christ," and not the Virgin Mary!

This particular expression "let us offer a sacrifice of praise to God" not only emphasizes the fact that in their worship believers act in priestly capacity, but it also signifies that we now have the substance of what was shadowed forth by the Levitical rites. It also denotes that the Christian ought to be as particular and diligent in the discharge of his evangelical duties as the Jew was in the performing of his ceremonial obligations. As he was required to bring an offering that was without physical defect, so we must bring to God the very best that our hearts can supply: "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name." Content not thyself with offering to God a few formal utterances of thanksgiving, still less hurry through thy worship as a task you are glad to get finished; but strive after reality, fervency, and joy in the same.

When the worshipping Israelite approached the tabernacle or temple, he did not come empty-handed, but brought with him a thank-offering. Then "let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God." When the saints come together for public worship, it should be not only for the object of having their empty vessels filled and their hungry souls fed, but with the definite purpose of offering to God that which will please Him. The more closely we walk with God, and the more intimate be our communion with Him, the easier the performance of this pleasant duty. The more we delight ourselves in the Lord and regale our souls by the contemplation of His perfections, the more spontaneous, fervent, and constant, will be our worship of Him. The more we cultivate the habit of seeing God's hand in everything, and are grateful to Him for temporal blessings, the more will the spirit of thanksgiving possess our hearts and find expression in songs of praise.

This sacrifice of praise is here designated "the fruit of our lips," which is a quotation from Hosea 14:2 , where backsliding Israel vows that in return for God's receiving them graciously, they will render to Him "the calves of their lips"—the Hebrew word for "calves" being the same as for "praise." The expression "fruit of our lips" may at first strike us as strange, but a little reflection will reveal its propriety. Isaiah 6:5 , 6 serves to open its meaning. By nature our "lips" are unclean: "Their throat is an open sepulcher, with their tongues they have used deceit, the poison of asps is under their lips; whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness" ( Romans 3:13 , 14). But by God's applying to us the virtues of Christ's atonement, our lips are cleansed, and should henceforth be used in praising Him. "Fruit" is a living thing: the product of the Holy Spirit. When, through backsliding, the heart has cooled toward God and the music of joy has been silenced, cry unto Him "O Lord, open Thou my lips, and my mouth shall show forth Thy praise" ( Psalm 51:15).

This "sacrifice of praise" is to be offered unto God not merely on the Sabbath, but "continually." Have we not more cause to praise God than to pray? Surely, for we have many things to thank Him for, which we never ask for. Who ever prayed for His election, for godly parents, for their care of us in helpless infancy, for their affection, for their faithfulness in training us the way we should go! Does not God daily heap upon us in favors beyond that we are able to ask or think? Therefore we should be more in praising God than in petitioning Him. "With thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God" ( Philippians 4:6): ah, is it not our failure in the former which explains why we are so often denied in the latter? "Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving" ( Colossians 4:2); "with thanksgiving" is as much a command as is the "continue in prayer."

"It is good thing to give thanks unto the Lord, and to sing praises unto Thy name, O most High" ( Psalm 92:1). Yes, it is not only glorifying to God, but it is beneficial to the soul, To cultivate the habit of praising God will preserve the believer from many evils. The trials of life are more cheerfully borne if the spirit of thankfulness to God be kept lively in the heart. A man cannot be miserable while he is joyful, and nothing promotes joy so much as a heart constantly exercised in praising God. The apostles forgot their smarting backs in the Philippian dungeon as they "sang praise unto God" ( Acts 16:25). The happiest soul we have ever met was a sister in a London garret (before the days of old-age pensions), who had neither eaten meat or fruit nor had a glass of milk for years past, but was continually praising the Lord.

Mary was offering to God a sacrifice of praise when she exclaimed "My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior" ( Luke 1:46 , 47). That was no mechanical Acts , but the spontaneous outburst of a heart delighting itself in the Lord. It is not enough that the believer should feel adoring emotions in his soul: they must be expressed by his mouth—that is one reason why the sacrifice of praise is defined in our text as "the fruit of our lips." Vocal, articulated praise, is what becomes those who have received the gift of speech: that is why the saints of all ages have expressed their worship in holy songs and psalms. None of us sing as much as we should—how often the worldling shames us I Then let us say with David "I will praise Thee, O Lord, with my whole heart; I will show forth all Thy marvelous works. I will be glad and rejoice in Thee: I will sing praise to Thy name, O Thou Most High" ( Psalm 9:1 , 2).


Verse 16

The Christian's Sacrifices

( Hebrews 13:15 , 16)

From the eighth verse onwards (of Hebrews 13) the apostle is engaged in setting forth those spiritual duties of worship of which God Himself is the Object. Therein a series of contrasts are drawn between what obtained under the old covenant and that which pertains to the new. The Christian's privileges greatly excel those which belonged to Judaism as such. These superior blessings have been considered by us as we have passed from verse to verse. What is before us in verse 15 supplies a further exemplification of this general principle. The Levitical rites required God's earthly people to provide material offerings: but the Christian's "sacrifices" are entirely spiritual in their character. The Israelitish worshipper could not offer his sacrifices to God directly, but had to allow the priests to officiate for him: whereas Christians have themselves been made priests unto God, and therefore may sacrifice to Him immediately. The praise-sacrifices under the Law were only presented at particular times and places (cf. the "Feasts" of Leviticus 23): but the Christian may, through Christ, offer a sacrifice to God anywhere, at any time—"continually."

"By Him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that Isaiah , the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His name" (verse 15). More is implied than is expressed. The language of this verse is restricted to the duties of worship and our oral praising of God therein, yet we know full well that He accepts not thanksgiving from us unless it be accompanied by what good old Matthew Henry called "thanksgiving." Thus it is the entire compass of evangelical obedience to God which is comprehended here. Those who have been dedicated to Him by the blood of Christ are under the deepest obligations to please and honor Him. The nature of Gospel obedience consists in thanksgivings for Christ and grace by Him, and therefore the whole of it may be suitably designated "a sacrifice of praise." Gratitude and adoration axe the animating principles of all acceptable service. Every act and duty of faith has in it the nature of a sacrifice to God, wherein He is well-pleased.

John Owen suggests a threefold reason for the particular language in which the Christian's duty of obedience is here expressed. "1st. The great obligation that is upon us of continual thankfulness and praise to God on account of Christ's atonement. The sum and glory of our Christian profession, Isaiah , that it is the only way of praising and glorifying God for His love and grace in the person and mediation of Christ 2nd. This obligation to praise succeeding in the room of all terrifying legal constraints to obedience, alters the nature of that obedience from what was required under and by the Law 3rd. Where the heart is not prepared for and disposed to this fundamental duty of praising God for the death and oblation of Christ, no other duty or act of obedience is accepted with God."

In bidding us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, two things are denoted: freedom from the limitations of time and place as were appointed under Judaism, and diligent perseverance and constancy therein. To abound in fervent praise unto God is the abiding duty of the Christian. But for that there must be the regular exercise of faith. Calling into question the promises of God quenches the spirit of worship; doubts snap the strings of our harps; unbelief is the deadly enemy of praise. To praise God continually requires us to be in daily communion with Him. It is not to be wondered at that the joy of many believers is so sickly, when we consider how little fellowship they have with the Lord: if there be so little heat around the bulb of their thermometer, how can the mercury rise higher! To praise God "continually" we must cultivate perpetual gratitude, and surely that should not be difficult!

"I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth" ( Psalm 34:1): at no lower standard than that must we aim. How this meets the lament made by so many Christians. "There seems so very little I can do to express my gratitude unto the Lord." Ah, my brother, you may not be gifted with talents to exercise in public, you may not have much money to give to God's cause, but what is to withhold your offering unto Him a sacrifice of praise, and that "continually"! Is not this God's due? Did Spurgeon express it too strongly when he said, "Praise is the rent which God requires for the use of His mercies." Then shall we rob God? Shall we withhold that in which He delights? Does not God give us abundant cause to praise Him "continually"!

"To show forth Thy loving kindness in the morning, and Thy faithfulness every night" ( Psalm 92:2). "I will sing unto the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have my being" ( Psalm 104:33). What a word is that for the aged and infirm Christian! Ah, dear reader, your eyes may have become so dim that you can scarcely read the Sacred page any more, your strength may have become too feeble for you to walk to the house of prayer, but your lips can still articulate and express thanksgiving! "I will be glad and rejoice in Thy mercy: for Thou hast considered my trouble" ( Psalm 31:7): rejoice in His pardoning mercy, preserving mercy, providing mercy. "Who can utter the mighty acts of the Lord? who can show forth all His praise?" ( Psalm 106:2). Well did Goodwin close his reflections upon the Psalm of praise by saying, "My brother, let us pray for such a heart as this, that the saints of the O.T. may not shame us who are Christians under the New."

It is striking to note that the Hebrew word "bara" signifies "to create," while "barak" means "to praise," intimating that the praising of God is the chief end of our creation. Though nothing can be added to God's essential glory, yet praise promotes His manifestative glory, for it exalts Him before others. In this manner the angels glorify Him for they are the choristers of Heaven, trumpeting forth His praise. An old writer quaintly pointed out that believers are the "temples" of God, and when their tongues are praising Him, their spiritual "organs" are then sounding forth. We read that the saints in Heaven have "harps" in their hands ( Revelation 14:2), which are emblems of praise. Alas, that so often our harps are "hung on the willows" ( Psalm 137:2), and murmurings and complaints are all that issue from our mouths. O my reader, be more earnest and diligent in seeking for grace to enable thee to be praising God continually.

"But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well-pleased" (verse 16). Here is the fifth sacrifice which the Christian is to offer unto God, namely, that of ministering to others, for all the acts and duties of love may fitly be termed "sacrifices." In the previous verse the apostle has shown the great obligation Godwards which the sanctification of the Church by the blood of Christ places upon its members, but here he makes known what influence it ought to have upon our conduct manwards. Thus, he turns from the first table of the Law to the second, and insists that if redemption places us under additional obligations to love God with all our hearts, it likewise supplies added reasons why we should love our neighbors as ourselves.

The first word of verse 16 is a connective, but the commentators differ as to how it should be translated. Calvin's annotators insist it should be rendered "And"; John Owen suggested "Moreover"; our translators preferred "But." There is no material difference in these variants: if "but" be retained, it is not to be taken as exceptional, as though it introduced something adverse unto what had previously been presented. It is clearly a continuation, or an addition to the duty mentioned in verse 15. As some might think that the entire duty of the Christian was comprehended in rendering to God that homage and devotion to which He is justly entitled, and that while we attend to that, nothing else need concern us, the apostle added "But"—notwithstanding the diligence required in the former duty—forget not to do good unto men and minister to their needs.

Herein we may perceive once more how carefully the Scriptures preserve the balance of truth at every point. The Divine Law is a unit, yet was it written upon two tables of stone, and the one must never be exalted to the disparagement of the other. True, there is an order to be observed: God Himself ever has the first claim upon our hearts, time and strength; nevertheless our fellow-creatures, and particularly our fellow-believers, also have real claims upon us, which we must not ignore. To disregard the second table of the Law, is not only to inflict an injury upon our neighbors, but it is to disobey and therefore to displease God Himself. There is an harmony in obedience, and a failure in any one point disturbs the whole, as is evident from James 2:10 , 11. It is for this reason, then, that our verse closes with, "for with such sacrifices God is well-pleased."

It was at this very point that Israel failed so often under the old covenant. Instead of treating their servants considerately, they imposed upon them; instead of ministering to the widow, they robbed her; instead of relieving the poor, they oppressed them. Nevertheless, they were very strict in keeping up their worship of Jehovah! A striking example of this is recorded in the first half of Isaiah 58. The prophet was bidden to cry aloud and spare not, but to show the people their sins. They had sought God "daily," "forsook not His ordinances," yea, took "delight" in approaching Him (verse 2). They were diligent in "fasting," yet God accepted not their worship, saying "Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is is not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh" (verses 6 , 7).

Another solemn example is found in Zechariah 7. God challenges them by asking, "When ye fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh month, even those seventy years, did ye at all fast unto Me, even to Me?" (verse 5). Then the prophet cried, "Thus speaketh the Lord of hosts, saying, Execute true judgment, and show mercy and compassions every man to his brother; and oppress not the widow, nor the fatherless, the stranger nor the poor; and let none of you imagine evil against his brother in your heart" (verses 9 , 10). What a strange anomaly human nature presents! How glaring its inconsistencies! Punctilious in the performances of public worship, yet utterly remiss in attending to private duties! Diligent and zealous in keeping the fasts and feasts of the Lord, yet regardless of the needs and cries of their destitute fellows! How is such to be accounted for? Easily: it bolsters up self-righteousness, feeds the idea that the favor of God can be purchased by the creature, and causes such pharisees to be looked up to for their "holiness" (?) by certain superficial people.

Hence it is that the duties of benevolence inculcated in our text are preceded by "forget not," intimating there is a more than ordinary proneness in professors of the Gospel to neglect them. It is a sinful neglect which is here prohibited. John Owen suggested four reasons or vicious habits of mind from which such forgetfulness proceeds. First, "an undue trust unto religious duties, as in many barren professors," by which he means those who set a high value upon their religious acts and think to win Heaven thereby. How many there be who contribute liberally to "the church" and yet under-pay their employees and overcharge their customers!—the gifts of such are a stench in God's nostrils.

Second, "from vain pleas and pretences against duties attended with trouble and charge." It is much easier and pleasanter to go to the house of prayer and sing God's praises, than it is to enter the dwellings of the poor and personally wait upon those who are sick. It costs less to put a coin in the collection-plate than it does to feed and clothe the destitute. Third, "a want of that goodness of nature and disposition which effectual grace will produce." The spirit of Christ in the heart will produce consideration and concern for others, and counteract our innate selfishness; but where Christ is absent, the Devil rules the heart. Fourth, "A want of that compassion toward sufferers, which is required of them that are still in the body: verse 3." May God preserve us from all religion that hardens and produces callousness, stifling even "natural affection."

"But to do good and to communicate forget not." "It is the duty of Christians to express their gratitude to God for His goodness to them, through Christ Jesus, by doing good: i.e, by performing acts of beneficence—in feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, relieving the distressed; and in this way communicating to their poor and afflicted brethren of the blessings Providence has conferred on them. While the terms are of that general kind as to express beneficence and the communication of benefits generally, it seems probable that the apostle had a direct reference to doing good by communicating to others those blessings for which they were especially bound to give thanks. It is the duty of Christians to do good to their fellow-men by communicating to them, so far as this is competent to them, those heavenly and spiritual blessings for which they are bound continually to give thanks to God" (John Brown).

"But to do good and to communicate forget not." That which is here inculcated is the sacrifice of love unto our fellows. Two words are used to set forth this duty. First, "do good" which concerns the whole course of our lives, especially with regard to others. Three things are included. First, a gracious propensity or readiness of mind thereto: "the liberal deviseth liberal things" ( Isaiah 32:8): he does not wait till he is asked, but seeks to be on the alert and anticipate the needs of others. Second, the actual exercise of this benevolent inclination, in all those ways which will be useful and helpful, spiritually and temporally, to mankind. Idealizing and theorizing is not sufficient: there must be the acting out of good will. Third, by buying up all occasions and opportunities for the exercise of compassion and loving-kindness to others.

A spirit of philanthropy and benevolence is to he manifested by well-doing. It is not enough to be good; we must do good. "My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth" ( 1 John 3:18). "Now there was at Joppa a certain disciple named Tabitha, which by interpretation is called Dorcas: this woman was full of good works and alms deeds which she did" ( Acts 9:36): her charitable actions are called "good works" because they were profitable and did good to others. Nor is this ministering to the wants of others to be confined unto the members of our own family, or even the limits of our denomination. "As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto those who are of the household of faith" ( Galatians 6:10)—therein the spirit of Christianity differs from the narrow and clannish spirit of all other religions. God does good unto all men, and we are to be "emulators of Him as dear children" ( Ephesians 5:1).

"But to do good and to communicate forget not." Christians are "created in Christ Jesus unto good works" ( Ephesians 2:10), regeneration capacitating them thereunto. Christ gave Himself for us that we should be a people who are "zealous of good works" ( Titus 2:14), for by them we honor Him and adorn our profession. No matter what self-sacrifice they entail, nor how ungrateful be the beneficiaries, we are to be diligent and persevering in helping all we can: "But ye, brethren, be not weary in well doing" ( 2 Thessalonians 3:13). "For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men" ( 1 Peter 2:15). And even though our well doing fails to silence the criticism of those who believe not, yea, if our perseverance therein brings down upon us increased opposition and persecution, yet it is written, "Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to Him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator" ( 1 Peter 4:19).

The second term used here in connection with the sacrifice of charity is "communicate," which means passing on to others what God has entrusted to us, according as their necessities do require. Literally, the Greek word signifies "having something in common with others." It is the actual exercise of that pity for the poor and indigent which is required of us in the distribution of good things unto them, according to our ability. This is an important evangelical duty which the Scriptures repeatedly charge us with: the glory of God, the salvation of our souls, and the honor of our profession, are highly concerned therein. It is striking to note that when he commended the Corinthians for their liberal contributions to the poor saints at Jerusalem, the apostle declared that "they glorify God for your professed subjection unto the Gospel of Christ" ( 2 Corinthians 9:13)—obedience to the command in our text is required by the Gospel!

John Owen rightly pointed out that "To be negligent herein is to despise the wisdom of God in the disposal of the lots and conditions of His own children in the world in so great variety, as He hath done always, and will always continue to do." What light that throws on those providential dispensations of God which are often so mysterious and exercising to the hearts of many of His people! Here is an important reason intimated why God blesses a few of His saints with considerable of this world's goods and why many of them have scarcely any at all: it is to provide opportunity and occasion for the exercise of those graces in them which their several conditions call for. By the unequal distribution of His material mercies, the rich have opportunity for thankfulness, charity, and bounty; while the poor are called upon to exercise patience, submission, trust, and humility. Where those graces are mutually exercised, there is beauty, order, and harmony, and a revenue of glory unto God.

Christians are rarely more sensible of God's goodness to them than when giving and receiving in a proper manner. He that gives aright feels the power of Divine grace at work in his heart, and he who receives aright is very conscious of Divine love and care in such supplies: God is near to both. Consequently, to be selfishly callous on the one hand, or proudly independent and scornful of charity on the other, is to impugn the wisdom of God in His disposal of the varied temporal circumstances of His people. No man is rich or poor merely for himself, but rather to occupy that place in the social order of things which God has designed unto His own glory. From what has been before us we may see how that many even of those who believe not are the temporal gainers by the death of Christ and the fruits thereof in the lives of His people.

Many and varied are the motives which Scripture employs to persuade the saint unto this duty of ministering unto the needy of His fellows. "He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the Lord; and that which he hath given will He pay him again" ( Proverbs 19:17). Do we really believe this? Do we act as though we did? The Lord allows none to lose by being generous, but repays him with interest one way or another, either to him or his posterity. "He that giveth unto the poor shall not lack; but he that hideth his eyes shall have many a curse" ( Proverbs 28:27): the selfish man exposes himself to the ill-will of those whom he callously ignores, and brings himself under the providential curse of God. "He that turneth away his ear from hearing the Law (on this matter), even his prayer shall be abomination" ( Proverbs 28:9)—bear that in mind, dear reader, if you wish to have and retain the ear of God.

"Give and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again" ( Luke 6:38). What an inducement is that! how it should stimulate unto liberality those who by nature have a miserly disposition. "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in Heaven" ( Matthew 5:16): how that should encourage us in the performing of good works! "But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully" ( 2 Corinthians 9:6): the writer has lived long enough to see many striking examples of both of these classes. "God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power: who went about doing good" ( Acts 10:38). He was ever thinking of others and ministering to them: feeding the hungry, healing the sick, relieving the distressed; and He has left us an example that we should follow His steps.

Let it be pointed out, however, that God requires us to use discretion and discrimination in the bestowments of charity. There is a class of shiftless idlers who are ever ready to impose upon the compassionate and generous hearted, and make the benevolence of others a reason for their own indolence. It is positively wrong to encourage those who seek to subsist on the liberality of others, instead of earning their own bread. Indiscriminate giving often does more harm than good. It is our bounden duty to go to the trouble of properly investigating each case on its own merits, instead of allowing our sentiment to override our judgment. God Himself has said, "This we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat" ( 2 Thessalonians 3:10), and it is sinful for us to negative that by giving money to able-bodied loafers.

"For with such sacrifices God is well-pleased." Whatever benefits the Christian bestows on others God regards them as done to Himself, and honors them with the name of "sacrifices." What gracious condescension on His part, that He should dignify our worthless works as to pronounce them holy and sacred things, acceptable to Himself! Rightly, then, did Calvin point out, "When, therefore, love does not prevail among us, we not only rob men of their right, but God Himself, who has by a solemn sentence dedicated to Himself what He has commanded to be done to men." How this consideration ought to stir us up to the exercise of kindness towards our neighbor. The more we do Song of Solomon , the more pleasure do we give unto Him to whom we are infinitely indebted. Withhold not thy hand, then, from that which delights thy God.

"For with such sacrifices God is well-pleased." There is a twofold emphasis in the word "such." First, it implies a contrast, denoting that God no longer required those ancient sacrifices which He had enjoined until an abrogation of the old covenant. Herein was a clear intimation that Judaism had been set aside. Second, it graciously stresses the fact that, though we deem our feeble praises and charitable works as too poor to be worthy of notice or mention, God Himself regards those very things as acts of worship that meet with His hearty approbation.

A beautiful illustration of what has just been pointed out is found in Philippians 4. The Philippian saints had sent a gift to the apostle Paul, which he not only gratefully acknowledged, but declared that the same was "an odor of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well-pleasing to God" (verse 18). "Beyond this the highest aspirations of a Christian cannot go. It is all he can wish; it is above all that he can think. To have the approbation of good men is delightful; to have the approbation of our own conscience is more delightful still; but to have the approbation of God, this is surely the highest recompense a creature can reach. This approbation is very strongly expressed in the Word: ‘God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labor of love, which ye have showed toward His name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister' ( Hebrews 6:10). It will be still more illustriously displayed when the Son appears in the glory of the Father, and in the presence of an assembled universe proclaims to those who, as a token of gratitude to God for the blessings of salvation, have done good and communicated: ‘For I was an hungered, and ye gave Me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave Me drink; I was a stranger, and ye took Me in; naked, and ye clothed Me... Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me:' Matthew 25:35-40" (John Brown).


Verse 17

Christian Rulers

( Hebrews 13:17)

"Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief; for that is unprofitable for you" (verse 17). It is quite clear from the balance of the verse that its opening words have reference to religious leaders, and not to civil rulers. Adolph Saphir, who was very far from being a "Nicolaitan" was right when he declared: "Verses 7,17 show that there was a stated ministry, that there were recognized and regular teachers and pastors in the congregation, whose gifts not only, but whose office was acknowledged." It is impossible that any unprejudiced and impartial mind should attentively consider the terms and implications of these verses and come to any other conclusion. The principle of subordination is absolutely essential to the well-being of any society that is to be rightly ordered and conducted-adumbrated even in the organization of our bodies.

In our text the Holy Spirit sets forth the third great duty which is required in our Christian profession, on account of the sacrifice of Christ and our sanctification by His blood. Most comprehensive and all-inclusive are the exhortations found in verses 15-17. The first respects our spiritual obligation, Godwards, rendering unto Him that which is His due (verse 15). The second respects our social obligation, rendering unto our needy fellows that which the requirements of charity dictates, according to our ability. The third has respect to our ecclesiastical obligation, rendering unto those officers in the church that submission and respect to which they are entitled.by virtue of the position and authority which Christ has accorded them. This is a Gospel institution, which can only be disregarded to the manifest dishonor of the Lord and to our own great loss.

Ever since the great Reformation of the sixteenth century, there have been wide differences of opinion among God"s people concerning the local church: its constitution, its officers, and its discipline. Even where there was oneness of mind respecting the fundamentals of the Faith, godly men have differed considerably in their ecclesiastical views. Numbers of the most gifted of Christ"s servants have, during the last three hundred years, written extensively upon the polity and policy of the local church, and though widely varying positions have been taken, and though each claimed to appeal to Scripture only for his authority, yet none succeeded in carrying the majority of professing Christians with him, or of persuading his opponents that their system was wrong.

While on the one hand we must admire the wisdom of Him who has providentially ordered as great a variety of types in the ecclesiastical sphere as He has in the physical and social-which though not a rule for us to walk by, is a subject for our admiration; yet on the other hand we cannot but deplore that they who are united on the same foundations and agreed in all the cardinal truths of Holy Writ, should lay such emphasis upon their circumstantial differences in sentiments as to prevent the exercise of mutual love and forbearance, and instead of laboring in concert within their respective departments to promote the common cause of Christ, should so often vex each other with needless disputes and uncharitable censures. Far better be silent altogether than contend for any portion of the Truth in a bitter, angry, censorious spirit.

No true Christian will hesitate to acknowledge that Christ Himself is the one infallible, authoritative Legislator and Governor of His Church, that He is the only Lord of conscience, and that nothing inconsistent with His revealed will should be practiced, and that nothing He has definitely enjoined be omitted, by those professing allegiance to Him. But however generally acknowledged these principles are, we cannot get away from the fact that the misconstruction and misapplication of them have contributed more to divide the people of God and to alienate their affections one from the other, than any other cause that can be assigned. Surely those who are built upon the common foundation, who are led by the same Spirit, who are opposed by the same enemies, should love as brethren and bear each other"s burdens. But alas! a mistaken zeal for Christ"s honor has filled them with animosity against their fellow-disciples, split them into innumerable factions, and given rise to fierce and endless contentions.

We quite agree with the godly John Newton, when he said in his "Apologia," nearly two hundred years ago: "Men are born, educated, and called under a great variety of circumstances. Habits of life, local customs, early connections, and even bodily constitution, have more or less influence in forming their characters, and in giving a tincture and turn to their manner of thinking. So that though, in whatever is essential to their peace and holiness, they are all led by the same Spirit and mind the same things; in others of a secondary nature, their sentiments may, and often do differ, as much as the features of their faces. A uniformity of judgment among them is not to be expected while the wisest are defective in knowledge, the best are defiled with sin, and while the weaknesses of human nature which are common to them all, are so differently affected by a thousand impressions which are from their various situations. They might, however, maintain a unity of spirit, and live in the exercise of mutual love; were it not that every party, and almost every individual, unhappily conceives that they are bound in conscience to prescribe their own line of conduct as a standard to which all their brethren ought to confirm They are comparatively but few who consider this requisition to be as unnecessary, unreasonable, and impracticable, as it would be to insist or expect that every man"s shoes should be exactly of one size.

"Thus, though all agree in asserting the authority and rights of the Lord Jesus, as King and Head of His Church, the various apprehensions they frame of the rule to which He requires them to conform, and their pertinacious attachment to their own expositions of it, separate them almost as much from each other, as if they were not united to Him by a principle of living faith. Their little differences form them into so many separate interests; and the heat with which they defend their own plans, and oppose all who cannot agree with them in a tittle, makes them forget that they are children in the same family, and servants of the same Master. And while they vex and worry each other with disputations and censures, the world wonders and laughs at them."

The position which has been taken by, perhaps, most of the leading writers, was something like this: Get away from the conflicting views of men, and read the N.T. prayerfully and impartially, and it will quickly be apparent that the Lord Jesus has not left such an important matter as the constitution of the churches undefined, but rather directed His apostles to leave in their writings a pattern according to which it was His will all His churches in future ages were to be formed, and (according to the particular leanings of each respective writer) that it will be seen the primitive churches were "Congregational," "Baptist," "Presbyterian," or "Brethren Assemblies," and therefore any other system or scheme is unscriptural, and a presumptuous deviation from the declared will of the Lord.

If, however, the reader cares to take the time and trouble to consult a number of the writers in any one of these different schools, he will find that though they are all agreed that a plain and satisfactory model of this "Congregational" church (or "Baptist," or "Presbyterian," or "Brethren Assembly," as the case may be) can easily be collected and stated from a perusal of the N.T.; yet when these same writers attempt to delineate and describe that church, they differ considerably among themselves as to the nature and number of its officers, powers and acts which are requisite to the constitution and administration of a Gospel church. There is very far from being that agreement among themselves which is certainly to be expected if the plan from which they profess to copy be so clearly and expressly revealed in the N.T. as to be binding upon believers in all ages.

It seems, then, that if every detail of the church"s government and worship be exhibited in the Scriptures, either in the form of a precept or precedent, yet thus far God has not given sufficient skill to any one so as to enable him to collect and collate the various rules and regulations scattered throughout the Gospels, Acts , Epistles, and the Revelation , and arrange them into a systematic and orderly structure. But that none really takes this principle seriously appears from his own practices. There are a number of things reported of the primitive Christians which few if any companies of Christians today make any attempt to emulate. For example, the holding of all earthly possessions in common ( Acts 2:44 , 45), greeting one another with a holy kiss ( 1 Corinthians 16:20), making provision for their widows when they reach the age of sixty ( 1 Timothy 5:9), or sending for the elders of the church to pray over and anoint us when we are sick ( James 5:14)!

In reply to what has just been said, it will be pointed out that in the days of the apostles the saints were endowed with extraordinary gifts, and consequently there were some things practiced by them (in 1Corinthians 14 , for example) which are not proper for our imitation today who have not those gifts. But that very admission surrenders the basic principle contended for. To be told that we should study the apostolic churches for our model, and then to be informed that some parts of their practice were not designed for our emulation, is too bewildering for the ordinary mind to grasp. Moreover, God has not told us anywhere which of the primitive practices were but transient and which were not. Where, then, is the man or men qualified to draw the line and declare authoritatively in what respects the state of the first Christians was hindered from being a pattern for us by the extraordinary dispensations of that generation, and in what cases their actions are binding on us now those extraordinary dispensations have ceased?

To the above it will at once be objected: But consider the only other alternative: surely it is most unreasonable to suppose that the Lord has left His people without a complete church model for their guidance! Is it not unthinkable that Christ would fail His people in such a vitally important matter as to how He would have them order all the concerns of the churches which bear His name, that He would leave them in ignorance of His will, as to their constitution, officers, order of worship, discipline, etc? If God ordered Moses to make all things in the tabernacle according to the pattern shown him in the mount, and if that pattern was so complete that every board and pin in the house of worship was definitely defined, is it believable that He has made less provision for His people today, now that the fullness of time has come? This argument has indeed a most plausible sound to it, and thousands have been misled thereby; but a dispassionate examination of it shows it to be unwarrantable.

In the first place, there is no promise recorded in the N.T. that He would do Song of Solomon , and no statement through any apostle that such a church model has been provided! In the second place, the history of Christendom clearly indicates the contrary. Had such a model been given, it would be as clearly recognizable as the tabernacle pattern, and all who really desired to please the Lord would have responded thereto; and, in consequence, there had been uniformity among the true followers of Christ, instead of endless diversity and variety. But in the third place, this proves too much. If a Divine model has been given supplying all the details for the ordering of N.T. churches and their worship, as definite and as complete as was given for the tabernacle, then we would have minute regulations concerning the size, shape, and furnishings of the buildings in which we must worship, full directions for the ministers apparel, and so on! The absence of those details is clear proof that no model for the churches comparable to the Divine pattern for the tabernacle has been vouchsafed us.

Then what conclusion are we forced to come to? This: a happy medium between the two alternatives suggested by most of those who have written on the subject. If on the one hand we cannot find in the N.T. that which in any wise corresponds to the "pattern" for the tabernacle (and the minute instructions God gave for the temple), on the other hand the Lord has not left us so completely in ignorance of His will that every man or company of Christians is left entirely to do that which is right in his own eyes. In keeping with the vastly different character of the two dispensations, the "liberty" of the Spirit ( 2 Corinthians 3:17) has supplanted the rigid legality of Judaism, and therefore has Christ supplied us with general principles (e.g, 1 Corinthians 14:26 , 40), which are sufficiently broad to allow of varied modification when applied to the differing circumstances of His people, situated in various climes and generations-in contrast from what was prescribed for the single nation of Israel of old.

In the N.T. we are furnished with a full revelation of all things necessary unto salvation, the knowledge whereof man by his own powers could never attain thereunto; yet there is much lacking there on other matters which was furnished under the old covenant. God not only supplied Israel with the ceremonial law, which was to regulate all their church or religious life, but He also gave them a complete code of precepts for their civil government, and no one pretends He has done this for Christians! In the absence of that civil code, why should it be thought strange that God has left many minor ecclesiastical arrangements to the discretion of His servants? Unto those who are indignant at such a statement, and who are still ready to insist that the Lord has made known His will on all things respecting church and religious affairs, we would ask, Where does the New Testament prescribe what marriage rites should be used? or the form of service for a funeral? But enough.

As Richard Hooker pertinently pointed out, "he who affirms speech to be necessary among all men throughout the world, doth not thereby import that all men must necessarily speak one kind of language. Even so the necessity of polity and regimen in all churches may be held, without holding any one certain form to be necessary in them all." This is far from granting that all the various modes of church government are equally agreeable to the spirit and genius of the Gospel, or equally suited to the promotion of edification. Once again we fully agree with John Newton when he said, "In essentials I agree with them all, and in circumstancials I differ no more from any of them than they differ among themselves. They all confess they are fallible, yet they all decide with an air of infallibility; for they all in their turn expect me to unite with them, if I have any regard to the authority and honor of the Lord Jesus as Head of the church. But the very consideration they propose restrains me from uniting with any of them. For I cannot think that I should honor the headship and kingly office of Christ by acknowledging Him as the Head of a party and subdivision of His people to the exclusion of the rest.

"Every party uses fair sounding words of liberty; but when an explanation is made, it amounts to little more than this: that they will give me liberty to think as they think, and to act as they act; which to me, who claim the same right of thinking for myself and of acting according to the dictates of my own conscience, is no liberty at all. I therefore came to such conclusions as these: that I would love them all, that I would hold a friendly intercourse with them all, so far as they should providentially come in my way (and, he might have added, so far as they will allow me!); but that I would stand fast in the liberty with which Christ has made me free, and call none of them master; in fine, that if others sought to honor Him by laying a great stress on matters of doubtful disputation, my way of honoring Him should be by endeavoring to show that His kingdom is not of this world, nor consists in meats and drinks, in pleading for form and parties, but in righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit; and that neither circumcision is anything, nor un-circumcision, but a new creature, and the faith which worketh by love.

This is the course which the writer has sedulously sought to follow for the past ten years, both in connection with this magazine and in oral ministry. But alas! notwithstanding the boasted "broadmindedness" and "liberality" of this generation, we have found, everywhere we have been the ecclesiastical barriers are as impregnable today as they were a century ago, and that no church, circle, or company of professing Christians is prepared to really welcome into their midst (no matter what his reputation or credentials) one who is unprepared to join and limit to their party, and pronounce all their shibboleths; and that the vast majority are unwilling to read any religious publication unless it bears upon it the label of their particular denomination. No wonder that the Spirit of God is quenched and His power and blessing absent, where such an un-Christ-like, sectarian, bigoted and pharisaical spirit prevails.

We are not going to prescribe for others; let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. But as far as the writer is concerned, he values his Christian liberty far too highly to voluntarily shut himself up in any ecclesiastical prison, where he is excluded from fellowship with his brethren and sisters scattered abroad. Of course since sinless perfection is not to be found in any individual on earth, it is not to be expected from any group of individuals. No one denomination or party has all the light. On the one hand, if the reader be a member of a church where unsound doctrine is preached or where no Scriptural discipline is maintained, his course is clear: Ephesians 5:11 , 2 Timothy 3:5. But if on the other hand, he belongs to any evangelical church which is honestly seeking to honor Christ and where his soul is being fed, then, in our humble judgment, he will be wise to remain there and "obey them that have the rule over him" yet let him not look down upon others who differ from him.

In dissenting from the popular view that the N.T. record of primitive Christianity furnishes a complete model of church government, and that the same is an authoritative rule binding upon the Lord"s people throughout the entire course of this dispensation, we are far from supposing that we shall carry with us the majority of our readers-by this time the writer ought to be sufficiently acquainted with human nature to prevent any such foolish day dreaming. And in affirming that the N.T. rather supplies us with general rules and principles, which are sufficiently elastic as to allow for human discretion to be exercised in the application of them to particular instances of the church"s outward conduct, we are quite prepared to face the charge that this statement is a "dangerous" one. Our reply Isaiah , that we are affirming no more than what is universally acknowledged concerning the regulation of the details of the life of the individual believer.

Is not the Christian daily made to cry unto God for wisdom how to act in his temporal affairs, and that because there are no specific precepts in the Word which prescribe for those particular exigencies? Is he not obliged, after prayerful deliberation, to use his common sense in applying the general rules of Scripture to a hundred minor details of his life? So common an occurrence is this and so universally does it obtain among the saints, that there is no need for us to enlarge upon it by illustrating the point-there is no need to prove what is self-evident. In view of this simple and obvious fact, why should we be the least surprised that God has ordained that His churches should follow a similar course, for what is a Gospel church but a company of individual believers in organized relationship. If, then, God has not told the individual believer at what hour he should rise on the Sabbath and how many meals he should eat that day, would we expect Him to state how long the minister"s sermon is to be, or how many hymns or psalms are to be sung?

"The Lord Christ in the institution of Gospel churches-their state, order, rule, and worship-doth not require of His disciples that in their observance of His appointments they should cease to be men, or forego the use and exercise of their rational abilities, according to the rule of that exercise, which is the light of nature, yea, because the rules and directions are in this case to be applied unto things spiritual and of mere Revelation , He giveth wisdom and prudence to make that application in a due manner, unto those to whom the guidance and rule of the church is committed: wherefore, as unto all things which the light of nature directs us unto, with respect unto the observation of the duties prescribed by Christ in and unto the Church, we need no other institution but that of the use of the especial Spiritual understanding which the Lord Christ gives us for that end.

"There are in the Scripture general rules directing us in the application of natural light, unto such a determination of all circumstances in the acts of church-rule and worship, as are sufficient for their performance decently and in order. Wherefore, as was said before, it is utterly in vain and useless, to demand express institution of all the circumstances belonging unto the government, order, and worship of the church; or for the due improvement of things in themselves indifferent unto its edification, as occasion shall require. Nor are they capable to be any otherwise stated, but as they lie in the light of nature and spiritual prudence directed by general rules of Scripture." (John Owen).

Nor is this to discredit or disparage the Holy Scriptures. The Testimony of God is true, perfect, and all-sufficient for the ends for which it was given; but that Testimony is not honored but dishonored by us, if we extravagantly attribute to it that which God never designed for the same. Rome has erred grievously by declaring that the Scriptures are not sufficient, that "traditions" must be added if we are to have a full revelation of what is absolutely necessary, for us to know in this life in order that we may be saved in the next. But some Protestants have gone to another extreme, taking the position that the Scriptures contain such a complete revelation of God"s will for the regulation of our lives, both as individuals and as churches, that to act according to any other rule (be it the promptings of conscience or the dictates of reason) is presumptuous and sinful.

But to insist that the conduct of the church must have an express warrant from the N.T. for every detail of its procedure, and that to act otherwise is displeasing to the Lord, is to go much farther than that which obtained even under the O.T. What commandment from the Lord did the Gileadites have to erect that altar spoken of in Joshua 22:10? Did not congruity of reason-the fitness of things-induce them thereto and suffice for defense of their act? What Divine commandment had the women of Israel to yearly lament for Jephthah"s daughter ( Judges 11:40)? What "thus saith the Lord" or scriptural precedent did Ezra have for making "a pulpit of wood" ( Nehemiah 8:4), from which he preached to the people? What Divine Commandment had the Jews to celebrate the feast of "Dedication" ( John 10:22), nowhere spoken of in the Law, yet solemnized by Christ Himself! To condemn all that is "of human invention" is not only to fly in the face of the judgment of many of the wisest and most godly men, but is to go beyond what the Scriptures themselves permit.

Christian Rulers

( Hebrews 13:17)

In the preceding article we have deviated from our usual custom in this series of giving a word by word exposition of the verse before us, deeming it well to first give it a topical treatment. This magazine, small as is its circulation, goes to hundreds of the Lord"s people who are found in many different branches of Christendom. Some of them are sorely perplexed by the babble of tongues which now obtains in the religious realm. The high claims so dogmatically put forth by various sects and systems, assemblies and circles of fellowship, bewilder not a few honest souls, who are desirous of doing that which is most pleasing to the Lord. It was with a desire to afford them some help on what is admittedly a most difficult and complicated subject, that according to the light which God has granted us (or withheld from us), we sought to point out some of the fallacies pertaining to the leading positions taken by ecclesiastical writers.

To say that the diverse denominations, even the evangelically orthodox, cannot all be right, and therefore that among them there must be one much more closely in accord with the Scriptures than the others, sounds very feasible; nevertheless, the writer is satisfied that, generally speaking, it has more of error than truth in it. Comparisons are proverbially odious. As no one believer has all the graces of the Spirit equally developed in him, so no one church or denomination has all the Truth. Think of attempting to draw invidious contrasts between Andrew and Peter, Paul and John , as to which was the more Christ-like! As well might one set the rose over against the lily of the valley, or wheat against oats. As 1Corinthians tells us, "There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification." So in the providence of God each particular denomination has filled a place and served a purpose in His plan concerning His cause upon earth.

Nothing is more offensive to God than creature pride ( Proverbs 6:16 , 17), and nothing is more to be deplored among those who bear the name of Christ than that a company of them (be it large or small) shall claim "we are the people"-the people who meet on the most scriptural ground, the people who adhere closest to the Word. A spirit of bigotry ill-becomes sinners saved by grace, while jealousies and contentions, enmity and reviling, among members of the same Family are most reprehensible: "the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God" ( James 1:20). Differences of opinion are inevitable while we are in the flesh-permitted by God that we should have occasion to be "forbearing one another in love" ( Ephesians 4:2). That form of church government which accords most closely to the N.T, and where every detail is scrupulously correct, would be valueless in the sight of God unless it were conducted in love and its worship was "in spirit and in truth."

Let it be attentively considered that at the dawn of Christianity the first officers of the church were immediately called by Christ ( Galatians 1:2), which none now are, nor have any since the decease of those who were so called at the first; that they were endowed with extraordinary gifts and power, but Christ has not continued to communicate such to His servants; that those original officers were blest with Divine inspiration and infallible guidance, both in preaching the Gospel and appointing things necessary for the churches, which none can rightly pretend unto today; that those first officers had a commission giving them authority towards all the world for evangelization and over all churches for their edification which no servant of Christ can claim today. How utterly vain, then, is the claim, either unto a "succession" of those officers, or to a perfect emulation of their order of things. Nevertheless, church-rulers-bishops and deacons-were to continue, as is clear from 1Timothy 3 , etc.

Now in every orderly society there must be rulers, and in all ages and dispensations the same have been mercifully appointed by God: Moses, Joshua , the judges and kings over Israel, are so many illustrations of this principle. It is the same in this era, nor does the presence of the Holy Spirit render unnecessary rulers in the churches. Christ is not the Author of confusion: but endless confusion and turmoil is inevitable where there are no accredited and acknowledged leaders. True, the rulers Christ has instituted for His churches possess no arbitrary power, for they are themselves subordinate to Him. Their office is that of a steward ( Titus 1:7), who is neither to lord it over the household nor to be entirely under subjection to it, but to superintend and provide for the family.

Take the chief steward or "lord chamberlain," of his majesty king George, and while it may not be strictly parallel with the position and duties of an official servant of Christ, yet there is sufficient in common for the former to help us understand the latter. While on the one hand the "lord chamberlain" has to be regulated by certain rules and well established precedents, yet on the other hand he is far more than an automaton mechanically acting according to a written code. As one qualified for his position, he is allowed considerable freedom in making many arrangements for the Royal household; nevertheless, he is not free to act arbitrarily or follow naught but his own preferences. No, that which regulates him is the well-being of his august master: he plans and arranges so as to please him, to promote his comfort, to serve his interests and honor; and when he is in doubt as to his procedure, consults the king to ascertain his will.

Analagous is the position occupied by the pastor of a local church. "Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing" ( Matthew 24:45 , 46). Note carefully the following points in this passage. First, the use of the singular number: one servant for each local household! Second, that this servant is made "ruler over the" household! Third, that he is given that position for the purpose of supplying them "meat in due season," which, in its wider signification, means to superintend all the arrangements, to care for all its members, to protect and promote their well-being. Christ does not call dolts and idiots to occupy this place, but men endowed with good common sense, to which He graciously adds spiritual wisdom and discernment.

Now the ruler of Christ"s household is neither a supreme sovereign or pope, nor a mere figure head without freedom of action. Hebrews , in turn, is the servant, responsible to Him, there to uphold His honor, care for those who are precious in His sight, and to whom he must yet render a full account of his stewardship. Therefore, while on the one hand he must act within the bounds of certain general rules and principles prescribed for his conduct, and must not introduce anything which would dishonor his royal Master or be inimical to His interests; yet on the other hand he is required to use his own judgment in applying those general rules to particular cases and to make whatever minor arrangement he deems most for his Master"s glory and the good of His household; and when he is in doubt as to his right or best course, it is his privilege to plead and count upon the promise of James 1:5.

To extend our analogy one point further. As the "lord chamberlain" has other servants under him to assist in the discharge of his honorable duties, servants who cooperate with him by carrying out his instructions, so Christ has provided the pastor of a local church with deacons, and, as many think, with "ruling elders" (or where the church is a larger one as was the case with many of those in apostolic times-with fellow-pastors or "elders"), to help him in his official duties. So that when our text says "obey them that have the rule over you" it takes in all the officers of the local church, whatever be the technical names they now go under. These additional church officers not only provide assistance for the chief ruler, but they also serve as a check upon him, for if they be endowed with the qualifications specified in 1Timothy , they will not be a party to anything which is obviously dishonoring to Christ.

If it be true (as many students of Scripture have concluded) that the seven epistles of Revelation 2,3furnish a prophetic outline of the ecclesiastical history of Christendom, then it appears that the trend of church government has passed from one extreme to another, from Nicolaitanism ( Revelation 2:6 , 15), which signifies the subjugation of the laity, to Laodiceanism ( Revelation 3:14) which means the domination of the laity. Nor need this surprise us, for the same change has taken place in the political and social order. It is indeed striking to observe how close is the resemblance between them. The development of Nonconformity and the rapid spread of Independency in the religious world was quickly followed by the rebellion of the American colonies and the formation of Republics in the U.S.A. and in France. Side by side with the growth of a democratic spirit in the churches, has been the spread of "socialism" in the state, the one more and more Revelation -acting on the other.

One of the most radical and far reaching movements of the last century was that which sought to obliterate all distinctions between the clergy, and the laity, establishing a network of "assemblies" all over the English-speaking world, wherein there are (professedly) no officers, where a one- Prayer of Manasseh -ministry is decried, and where the Spirit is (avowedly) free to use whom He pleases. This modern movement also claims to be founded entirely upon the Scriptures, yea, insists that all other bodies of professing Christians are the daughters of Rome and form part of that mystical and apostate Babylon from which God commands His people to come out. This movement has also split up into scores of conflicting parties, each claiming to be the only one which truly "represents" the Body of Christ on earth. But enough; let us now come to closer grips with our text.

"Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves; for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you (verse 17). In these words respect is had to be the ministerial office. To bear "rule" intimates both the duty and dignity of Christ"s official servants. God has graciously appointed them to subserve His honor by maintaining decency and order in His churches, and because they are necessary and for the good of His people. To obey and submit to their spiritual leaders is what church-members are here exhorted unto. In verse 7 the apostle made known the particular duties unto those of their guides who had finished their course; here he presses upon them their obligations toward those who were still with them in the body. To ignore those rulers or to rebel against their authority, is to despise the One who has appointed them.

"Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves." It is abundantly clear from these words that in the days of the Apostles there were two distinct classes among God"s people, namely, the rulers and those that were ruled, and as this is not merely an historical statement but a specific exhortation, it is equally clear that the same is binding upon Christians throughout the entire course of this dispensation. This, of course, presupposes a settled church state among them, in which the distinctive duties of each class is here distinctly defined, according to the office of the one and the obligation of the other. The duties here prescribed contain a succinct summary of all that relates to church rule and order, for all that concerns its welfare is comprised in the due obedience of the church to its rulers, and their due discharge of their office.

The Greek word for "them that have the rule over you" ("hegeomai") is rendered "chief" in Luke 22:26 and "governor" in Acts 7:10-"and he (Pharaoh) made him (Joseph) governor over Egypt and all his house," which sufficiently intimates its scope. They have received power from Christ to preside over His assemblies, to declare His will and execute His laws, to reprove, rebuke, exhort with all authority and longsuffering. They have no arbitrary power except what Christ has given them, yet within the limits He has prescribed, they are rulers, and it is the duty of their members to obey them. "It is of equal importance that the office-bearers in a church should not aspire to a higher degree of authority, and should not be content with a lower degree of authority, than that which their Master has assigned them; and that the members of a church should equally guard against basely submitting to a tyranny which Christ has never instituted, and lawlessly rebelling against a government which He has appointed" (John Brown).

John Owen declared that the twofold duty here enjoined with respect to the ecclesiastical leaders has respect unto the two parts of their office, namely, teaching and ruling: "obey their teaching and submit to their rule." While it be true that their doctrine or preaching is to be obeyed (so far as it accords with the Truth), and that their authority is to be yielded unto as it respects their ordering of the church"s life, yet we rather regard the two exhortations as having a distributive force, the second amplifying the first. The word "obey" in our text means an obedience which follows a being persuaded: the mind is first carried along with the preacher so that it believes, and then the will Acts -note the marginal alternative in Acts 5:36 for "obeyed" is "believed." "And submit yourselves" seems to us to have reference unto the spirit in which they were to obey-obedience was not to be merely an outward Acts , but prompted by submissive hearts.

Thus, we take it that "obey them that have the rule over you" is not to be restricted to their teaching (as Owen defined it), but includes their ruling of the church as well; while the "submit yourselves" has a wider significance than yielding to their rule, referring to the spirit which was to regulate the whole of their obedience. As Calvin well expressed it, "He commands first obedience and then honor to be rendered to them. These two things are necessarily required, so that the people might have confidence in their pastors, and also reverence them. But it ought at the same time to be noticed that the apostle speaks only of those who faithfully performed their office; for they who have nothing but the title, nay, who use the title of pastors, for the purpose of destroying the Church, deserve but little reverence and still less confidence. And this also is what the apostle plainly sets forth when he says, that they watch for their souls-a duty which is not performed but by those who are faithful rulers."

The duty here enjoined, then, may be summed up in: cultivate an obedient, compliant, and submissive spirit unto your pastors and church officers. To "obey" and "submit" denotes such a subjection as of inferiors to superiors. It is not a servile subjection, but that reverent respect which God requires, a "submission" which issues from love, and which has for its end the honoring of those to whom honor is due. It would therefore include the doing of everything in the power of the members which would make the lot of their rulers easier and lighter, and, of course, would take in the providing for their temporal sustenance. Those rulers are appointed by God, standing in His immediate stead, so that the Lord Christ declared, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that receiveth whomsoever I send receiveth Me; and he that receiveth me receiveth Him that sent Me" ( John 13:20).

"Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves." It scarcely needs pointing out that those words are not to be taken absolutely, any more than are "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers" ( Romans 13:1) or "As the Church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing" ( Ephesians 5:24). Each of these exhortations is qualified by others: the members of a Gospel church are no more required to receive the pastor"s teaching when it be flagrantly opposed to Holy Writ, or to submit to any ruling of his which is manifestly dishonoring to Christ and injurious to His people, than they are to yield to a mandate of Nebuchadnezzar if he sets up an image to himself and commands all to fall down and worship it, or if an ungodly husband required from his wife anything contrary to the laws of nature. No, it is not a blind and implicit obedience which is here enjoined for that would be quite contrary to the whole tenor of Gospel obedience, which is "our reasonable service."

The subjection required by our text is only unto that office established by Christ Himself. If any usurp that office, and under cloak thereof do teach or enjoin things contrary to what Christ has instituted, then no obedience unto them is required by this command. But it is just at this point that most difficulty is experienced today. For many years past large numbers of professing Christians have been demanding that the religious leaders should speak unto them "smooth things," yea, prophesy unto them "deceits," declining to listen unto what condemned their carnal and worldly lives and refusing to heed the holy requirements of God. In consequence, He has suffered their descendants to reap the evil sowings of their fathers, by largely withholding "pastors after His own heart," and allowing thousands of unregenerate men to occupy the modern pulpit. Instead of "obeying" and "submitting" to them, God requires His people to turn away from and have nothing to do with them.

The true servants of Christ are to be identified by the marks specified in 1Timothy 3. They are men who are "apt to teach," being qualified by the Spirit to open up the Scriptures and apply them to the consciences and lives of their hearers. They are "not greedy of filthy lucre" nor covetous, demanding a salary which would enable them to live above the level of their members, and declining to serve if there were no pay attached to it. "Not a novice," with little or no experience in the spiritual ups and downs of God"s tried people, but one who has himself tested and proved the reliability and sufficiency of what he recommends to his hearers. He must be a man who is "not self-willed, not soon angry, not given to wine," but "a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate" ( Titus 1:7 , 8), or otherwise he could not commend what he teaches by his own example. The servants of Christ, then, are endued with a measure of the spirit of their Master, and it is by that they are to be distinguished from the false.

To refuse obedience and submission unto such, to contemptuously rail against "the one man system," is to despise a Divine institution, for the office of the "pastor" is as much the Lord"s own appointment as is the church itself, or the gifts and graces of its individual members. It is true that men will and do abuse the good gifts of God, but if some pastors are arbitrary, are not some members unruly? If there be pride in the pulpit, is there none in the pew? Alas, in this Laodicean and communistic age, when it has become the fashion to "despise dominion and speak evil of dignities" ( Jude 8) and when "the child shall behave himself proudly against the ancient, and the base against the honorable" ( Isaiah 3:5), almost every individual considers himself qualified to judge and direct both civil and ecclesiastical rulers, to prescribe for both state and church, to scrutinize and criticize everything that is being done, and to say what ought to be done. May the Lord have mercy and subdue the turbulent ragings of pride.

"For they watch for your souls." This is adduced as a reason why we should show proper respect unto Church rulers. "The word used is peculiar unto this place, and it denotes a watchfulness with the greatest care and diligence, and that not without trouble or danger, as Jacob kept and watched the flock of Laban in the night" (John Owen). The true under-shepherds of Christ have no selfish aims, but rather the spiritual and eternal good of those who are entrusted to their care. Many a minister of the Gospel is often awake, burning midnight oil, while the members of his flock are asleep. Many a one can say, "I will very gladly spend and be spent for you" ( 2 Corinthians 12:15). The ministerial office is no idler"s one: it makes demands on heart, mind, and nervous energy, such as none other does.

Here, then, is a motive, to move the members to gladly be subservient to their rulers. The more labor any one undertakes for our sake and the more difficulty and danger he incurs for us, the greater are our obligations to him. Such is the office of bishops or elders; and the heavier the burden they bear, the more honor they deserve. Let, then, our gratitude be evidenced by giving them that which is their due. "We beseech you, brethren, to know them which labor among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; and to esteem them very highly in love for their work"s sake. And be at peace among yourselves" ( 1 Thessalonians 5:12 , 13). Let us also add that, young men aspiring unto the ministerial office need to think twice about entering a calling which demands ceaseless self-sacrifice, unremitting toil, and a love for Christ and His people which alone will sustain amid sore discouragements.

"They watch for your souls as they that must give account" supplies a further motive. They are placed in a position of trust, commissioned by the Lord, to whom they are immediately responsible. They often render an account to Him now, keeping up a constant intercourse with Him, spreading before Him the state and needs of His people, seeking supplies of grace. A full and final account must be rendered of their stewardship in the Day to come. Unspeakably solemn consideration is that, and this it is which actuates them, for they "watch for the souls of their church as those who must give account." They bear in mind the awful warning of Ezekiel 33:5 , and seek to heed the exhortation of 1Timothy 4:16. "That they may do it with joy, and not with grief." Here is a further reason why church members should give to their rulers that which is due them. If on the one hand nothing is more encouraging to a pastor than for his people to be responsive and docile, it is equally true that nothing is more disheartening and saddening to him than to meet with opposition from those whose highest interests he is serving with all his might. Every Christian minister who is entitled to that designation, can, in his measure, say with the apostle, "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth" ( 3 John 4).

"For that is unprofitable for you" furnishes the final motive. For the members of a church to so conduct themselves as to be a constant source of grief unto their minister is to despise their own mercies. It not only prevents their receiving his instruction into their hearts, which results in their spiritual barrenness, but it also saps his vigor, quenches his zeal, causing him to proceed with a heavy heart instead of with cheerfulness. What is still more solemn and serious, the Lord Himself is highly displeased, and the tokens of His favor are withdrawn, for He is very sensitive of the mistreatment of His stewards. "We cannot be troublesome or disobedient to our pastors without hazarding our own salvation" (John Calvin)-alas that such erroneous ideas of "salvation" now so widely obtain. May the Lord mercifully pardon any thing in these articles displeasing to Him, and graciously add His blessing to that which is acceptable.


Verse 18

A Good Conscience

( Hebrews 13:18 , 19)

Hebrews 13:18 , 19 is closely connected with the verse which immediately precedes. In our present portion the apostle mentions another duty which believers owe to those who minister unto them in spiritual things, and this is that they should earnestly remember them before the Throne of Grace. The writer of this epistle besought the prayers of the Hebrews , supporting his plea with a declaration of the sincerity and fidelity with which he had sought to discharge his office. The very fact that the true servants of Christ are so conscientious in the performance of their work, should so endear them to those they minister unto that a spirit of prayer for them ought to be kindled in their hearts. They are the instruments through which we receive the most good, and therefore the least we can do in return is to seek to bear them up before God in the arms of our faith and love.

Before we consider this special need of Christ's servants, and our privilege and duty in ministering unto the same, we propose to devote the remainder of this article unto a careful consideration of the particular reason here advanced by the apostle in support of his request, namely, "for we trust we have a good conscience in all things willing to live honestly." This expression "a good conscience" occurs in several other passages in the N.T, and because of its deep importance it calls for our closest attention. Much is said in the Word about conscience, and much depends upon our having and preserving a good one, and therefore it behooves us to give our best consideration to this weighty subject. Not only is it one of great practical moment, but it is especially timely in view of the conscienceless day in which we live. What, then, is the conscience? What is a good conscience, and how is it obtained and maintained? May the Spirit of Truth be our Teacher as we seek to ponder these vital questions.

Conscience is that faculty of the soul which enables us to perceive of conduct in reference to right and wrong, that inward principle which decides upon the lawfulness or unlawfulness of our desires and deeds. Conscience has well been termed the moral sense, because it corresponds to those physical faculties whereby we have communion with the outward world, namely, the five senses of sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell. Man has an ethical instinct, a faculty or moral sensibility informing and impressing him. "It is far higher in the scale and keener in its perceptions than any mere bodily sense. There is an inner eye, that sees into the nature of right and wrong; an inner ear, sensitive to the faintest whisper of moral obligation; an inner touch, that feels the pressure of duty, and responds to it sympathetically" (A.T. Pierson).

Conscience is that mysterious principle which bears its witness within us for good or evil, and therefore it is the very center of human accountability, for it greatly adds to his condemnation that man continues sinning against the dictates of this internal sentinal. Conscience supplies us with self-knowledge and self-judgment, Revelation -suiting in self-approbation or self-condemnation according to our measure of light. It is a part of the understanding in all rational creatures which passes judgment on all actions for or against them. It bears witness of our thoughts, affections, and actions, for it reflects upon and weighs whatever is proposed to and by the mind. That it bears witness of emotions is clear from, "My conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart" ( Romans 9:1 , 2). So again we read, "Take no heed unto all words that are spoken, lest thou hear thy servant curse thee; for oftentimes also thine own heart (conscience) knoweth that thou thyself likewise hast (inwardly) cursed others" ( Ecclesiastes 7:21 , 22). Its voice is heard by the soul secretly acquainting us with the right and wrong of things.

That conscience exists in the unregenerate is clear from Paul's statement concerning the Gentiles: "Which show the work of the law written in their hearts: their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the meanwhile accusing or else excusing one another" ( Romans 2:15). Though the heathen never received the Scriptures, as Israel did, yet they had within them that which accused or excused them. There is within every man (save the idiot) that which reproves him for his sins, yea, for those most secret sins to which none are privy but themselves. Wicked men seek to stifle those inward chidings, but are rarely if ever successful. "The sinners in Zion are afraid; fearfulness hath surprised the hypocrites" ( Isaiah 33:14). Unregenerate men are without faith, yet not without fear: "The wicked flee when no man pursueth" ( Proverbs 28:1). There is that within man which appalls the stoutest Sinner after the commitral of any gross evil: his own heart reproves him.

The Creator has gifted the human soul with various faculties, such as the understanding, affections, and will; and He has also bestowed upon it this power of considering its own state and actions, both inward and outward, constituting conscience both a monitor and judge within man's own bosom—a monitor to warn of duty, a judge to condemn for neglect of the same. It is an impartial judge within us, that cannot be suspected of either undue severity or ill-will, for it is an intrinsic part of our own very selves. Conscience anticipates the Grand Assize in the Day to come, for it forces man to pass verdict upon himself, as he is subject to the judgment of God. It is resident in the understanding, as is clear from 1Corinthians , where the conscience is termed our "spirit."

The presence of conscience within man supplies one of the clearest demonstrations of the existence of God. To this fact the Holy Spirit appeals in Psalm 53. "The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God" (verse 1). Now how does he prove there is a God? Thus, "There were they in great fear, where no fear was" (verse 5). Though there was no outward cause for fear, none seeking to hurt them, yet even those who lived most atheistically were under a fear. An illustration is seen in the case of Joseph's brethren, who accused themselves when there was none other to accuse them: "They said one to another, We are verily guilty concerning our brother" ( Genesis 42:21). Though a man should hide himself from all the world, he cannot get away from himself—his heart will pursue and condemn him. Now the very fact that there is such a hidden fear in man after sinning, that their hearts smite them for crimes done in secret, argues there is a God.

This fear is found in the most obstinate sinners, and in those who, because of their high station and power are exempt from human justice. History records how kings and emperors have followed their wickedness without interference, yet even the infamous Caligula trembled when it thundered. It was not a fear that they might be found out by man and punished by him, for in some notable instances this fear prevailed to such an extent that human punishment had been a welcome relief, and failing which they perforce laid violent hands upon themselves. What can be the reason for this, but that they feared a Judge and Avenger, who would call them to account? As the apostle said of the heathen, "They know the judgment of God" ( Romans 1:32): there is a witness in their own souls that they are liable to His justice. Mark the fearful consternation of Belshazzar: the paling of his countenance, smiting of his knees, loosing of his joints, when he read the sentence on the palace walls ( Daniel 5:6).

"There is nothing in man that more challenges and demands adequate explanation than his moral sense. Conscience is a court always in session and imperative in its summons. No man can evade it or silence its accusations. It is a complete assize. It has a judge on its bench, and that judge will not be bribed into a lax decision. It has its witness-stand, and can bring witnesses from the whole territory of the past life. It has its jury, ready to give a verdict, ‘guilty' or ‘not guilty,' in strict accordance with the evidence; and it has its sheriff, remorse, with his whip of scorpions, ready to lash the convicted soul. The nearest thing in this world to the bar of God, is the court of conscience. And though it be for a time drugged into a partial apathy, or intoxicated with worldly pleasure, the time comes when in all the majesty of its imperial authority this court calls to its bar every transgressor and holds him to a strict account" (A.T. Pierson).

But though the presence of conscience in us bears witness to the existence of a holy, righteous, sin-hating and sin-avenging God, it is scarcely correct to say (as numbers have done) that the conscience is the voice of God speaking in the soul, rather is it that faculty which responds to what He says. When Christ declared "he that hath ears to hear let him hear," He signified, him that has a conscience attuned to the Most High, who desires to know His will and submit to His authority. Conscience sits upon the bench of the heart as God's vicegerent, acquitting or accusing. It acts thus in the natural Prayer of Manasseh , but in the regenerate it is a godly conscience, guided in its operations by the Holy Spirit, bearing its testimony for or against the believer according to his character and conduct, Godwards and manwards.

The actual term conscience is derived from "scio" to know, and "con" with. There is some difference of opinion as to the precise application of the prefix, whether it be a knowledge we have in common with God, or a knowledge according to His Law. Really, it is a distinction with very little difference. The "knowledge" is of one individual alone by himself, but this "knowledge with" is where two at least share the same secret, either of them knowing it together with the other. Conscience, then, is that faculty which combines two together, and makes them partners in knowledge; it is between man and God. God knows perfectly all the doings of a Prayer of Manasseh , no matter how carefully concealed; and Prayer of Manasseh , by this faculty, also knows together with God the same things of himself. Hence we read of "conscience toward God" ( 1 Peter 2:19), or as the Greek may also be rendered (see margin of R.V.) "the conscience of God"—having Him for its Author and Object. Conscience is God's vicegerent, acting for and under Him.

Thus, as the very term implies, conscience must have a rule to work by: "knowledge together with." It is not only a knowledge, but a knowledge coupled with a standard, according to which a process of inward judgment is carried on. Now our only proper rule is the Word, or revealed will of God. That is divided into two parts: what God speaks to man in His holy Law, and what He says to him in His blessed Gospel. If conscience departs from that Rule, then it is a rebellious one, it has ceased to speak and judge for God, and then the light in man is turned into darkness, for the (inward) eye has become evil ( Matthew 6:23). In his primitive condition man had only the Law, and the proper work of conscience then was to speak warningly and condemningly in strict accordance with that Rule, and to allow none other. But our first parents listened to Satan's lie, broke the Law, and came under its condemnation.

Wherever we go conscience accompanies us, whatever we think or do it records and registers in order to the Day of accounts. "When all friends forsake thee, yea, when thy soul forsakes the body, conscience will not, cannot, forsake thee. When thy body is weakest and dullest, the conscience is most vigorous and active. Never more life in the conscience than when death makes its nearest approach to the body. When it smiles, acquits, and comforts, what a heaven doth it create within a man! But when it frowns, condemns and terrifies, how does it becloud, yea, benight all the pleasures, joys and delights of this world" (John Flavell). Conscience, then, is the best of friends or the worst of enemies in the whole creation.

Much of our peace of mind and liberty of spirit in this world will be according to the favorable testimony of conscience, and much of our spiritual bondage, fear, and distress of mind will be according to the charges of wrong-doing which conscience brings against us. When the gnawings of conscience are intensified, they become unendurable, as was the case with Cain, Judas and Sapphira, for they supply a real foretaste of the internal torments of Hell. Most probably this is that "worm that dieth not" ( Mark 9:44) which preys upon the lost. As a worm in the body is bred of the corruption that is therein, so the accusations and condemnations of conscience are bred in the soul by the corruptions and guilt that are therein; and as the worm preys upon the tender and invisible parts of the body, so does conscience touch the very quick of the soul.

But notwithstanding what has been predicated of the conscience above, it Isaiah , nevertheless, defiled ( Titus 1:15). In the natural man it is exceeding partial in its office, winking at and indulging favorite sins, whilst being strict and severe upon other sins to which a person is not constitutionally prone. Thus we find the conscience of king Saul exceedingly punctilious in a matter of the ceremonial law ( 1 Samuel 14:34), yet he scrupled not to slay eighty-five of God's priests! The reason why the conscience is so uneven is because it has been corrupted by the Fall: it is out of order, just as a foul stomach craves certain articles of diet while loathing others which are equally wholesome. So it is in the performance of duties: conscience in the natural man picks and chooses according to its own perverted caprice: neglecting what is distasteful, performing what is pleasing and then being proud because it has done so.

Now conscience is either good or evil, and that, according as it is governed by the revealed will of God. Briefly, the evil conscience first. This is of several kinds. There is the ignorant and darkened conscience, relatively so and not absolutely, for all (save idiots) possess rationality and the light of nature. This is the condition of the heathen, and alas, of an increasing number in Christendom, who are reared in homes where God is utterly ignored. Then there is the brazen and defiant conscience, which blatantly refuses to be in subjection to God's known will: such was the case with Pharaoh. In the case of Herod we see a bribed conscience, pretending that his oath obliged him to behead John the Baptist. The seared and insensible conscience ( 1 Timothy 4:2) pertains to those who have long resisted the light and are given over by God to a reprobate mind. The despairing and desperate conscience leads its possessor to lay violent hands upon himself.

At the new birth the conscience is renewed, being greatly quickened and enlightened by the Holy Spirit. Through the exercise of faith the conscience is purified ( Acts 15:9), being cleansed by an appropriation of the blood of Christ ( Hebrews 9:14). A good conscience may be defined, generally, as one that is set to please God in all things, for it hates sin and loves holiness; it is one which is governed by the Word, being in subjection to the authority of its Author. Its binding rule is obedience to God. and to Him alone, refusing to act apart from His light. Consequently, the more conscientious the Christian be, the more he refuses all domination (the traditions and opinions of man) which is not Divine, the more likely is he to gain the reputation of being conceited and intractable. Nevertheless, each of us must be much on his guard lest he mistake pride and self-will for conscientious scruples. There is a vast difference between firmness and an unteachable spirit, as there is between meekness and fickleness.

How is a good and pure conscience obtained? Briefly, by getting it rightly informed, and by casting out its filth through penitential confession. The first great need of conscience is light, for ignorance corrupts it. "That the soul be without knowledge, it is not good" ( Proverbs 19:2). As a judge that understands not the laws of his country is unfit to give judgment on any matter that comes before him, or as a dim eye cannot properly perform its office, so a blind or uninformed conscience is incapable to judge of our duty before God. Conscience cannot take God's part unless it knows His will, and for a full acquaintance with that we must daily read and search the Scriptures. "Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to Thy Word" ( Psalm 119:9). O to be able to say, "Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path" ( Psalm 119:105).

Let us now mention some of the qualities or characteristics of a good conscience. First, sincerity. Alas, how little of this virtue is left in the world: what shams and hypocrisy now obtain on every side—in the religious realm, the political, the commercial, and the social. This is a conscienceless generation, and consequently there is little or no honesty, fidelity, or reality. That which now regulates the average person is a temporary expediency, rather than an acting according to principle. But it is otherwise with the regenerate: the fear of the Lord has been planted in his heart, and therefore can he say with the apostle, "We trust we have a good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly." A sincere conscience genuinely desires to know God's will and is truly determined to be in subjection thereto. Guile has received its death wound, and the heart is open to the light, ready to be searched thereby.

Tenderness is another property of a good conscience. By this quality is meant a wakefulness of heart so that it smites for sin upon all occasions offered. So far from being indifferent to God's claims, the heart is acutely sensitive when it has been ignored. Even for what many consider trifling matters, a tender conscience will chide and condemn. Job resolved to preserve a tender conscience when he said, "my heart shall not reproach me as long as I live" ( Job 27:6). Again; we may understand this characteristic from its opposite, namely, a seared conscience ( 1 Timothy 4:2), which is contracted by an habitual practice of that which is evil, the heart becoming as hard as the public highway. Pray frequently for a tender conscience, dear reader.

Fidelity. When conscience faithfully discharges its office there is a constant judging of our state before God as a measuring of our ways by His Holy Word. Thus the apostle Paul could say, "Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day" ( Acts 23:1). The favorable judgment which others may entertain of him will afford no satisfaction to an upright man unless he has the testimony of conscience that his conduct is right in the sight of God. No matter what may be the fashions of the hour nor the common custom of his fellows, one whose heart beats true to God will not do anything knowingly against conscience: his language will ever be, "whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye" ( Acts 4:19). On the other hand, his frequent prayer Isaiah , "Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting" ( Psalm 139:23 , 24).

Tranquillity. This is the sure reward of sincerity and fidelity, for Wisdom's ways (in contrast from those of folly) "are ways of pleasantness and all her paths are peace" ( Proverbs 3:17). An offended conscience will offend us, and "a wounded spirit who can bear?" ( Proverbs 18:14). The Christian may as well expect to touch a live coal without pain, as to sin without trouble of conscience. But a clear conscience is quiet, condemning not, being unburdened by the guilt of sin. When we walk closely with God there is a serenity of mind and peace of heart which is the very opposite of the state of those who are lawless and disobedient, "for the wicked are like the troubled sea, which cannot rest." The tranquility of a good conscience is an earnest of the undisturbed calm which awaits us on High.

But let it be pointed out that every peaceful conscience is not a good one, nor is every uneasy conscience an evil one. The conscience of some is quiet because it is insensible. "When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace" ( Luke 11:21): that is a quiet evil conscience, because put to sleep by the opiates of Satan. True tranquility of conscience is to be determined from the other properties: it must issue from sincerity, tenderness, and fidelity, or otherwise it is a seared one. We must consider not how much inward peace we have, but how much cause: as in a building, not the fairness of the structure, but the foundation of it is to be most regarded. On the other hand, a tender conscience is liable to err through lack of sufficient light, and needlessly write bitter things against itself, which is a "weak conscience" ( 1 Corinthians 8:12); as we may also be troubled by sins already pardoned.

Now a good conscience can only be maintained by constant diligence: "herein do I exercise myself to have always a conscience void of offense toward God and men" ( Acts 24:16). The apostle made it his daily employment to keep his conscience clear, that it might not justly accuse him of anything, so that he should have the witness in his own heart that his character and conduct was pleasing in the sight of the Holy One. The maintenance of a good conscience is an essential part of personal piety. "This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy... holding faith and a good conscience" ( 1 Timothy 1:18 , 19): that is the sum of personal godliness—faith being the principle of things to be believed by us, conscience the principle of the things to be done. Faith and a good conscience are linked together again in 1Timothy 1:5,3:9 , for we cannot hold the one without the other.

If the reader will turn back to Acts 24he will find that Paul was replying to charges brought against him. In verses 14-16 he made his defense, giving therein a brief epitome of practical and experimental Christianity. As the foundation he gives an account of his faith: "believing all things which are written"; as the immediate proof thereof—"and have hope toward God"; and then a brief account of his conversation: "herein do I exercise myself to have always a conscience void of offense." A saving knowledge of the Truth, then, is such a belief of the Scriptures as produces an hope of eternal life, which is evidenced by a keeping of the heart with all diligence. The same is enumerated again in "The end of the commandment" (the design of the Gospel institution) is that love which fulfils the Law, issuing from a heart that beats true to God ( 1 Timothy 1:5).

"Herein do I exercise myself": we must make it our constant endeavor. First, by a diligent and daily searching of the Scriptures that we may discover the will of God. We are exhorted "Be not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is" ( Ephesians 5:17), and this in order that we may ascertain what is pleasing to Him, so that we offend not either in belief or worship. A conscience ill-informed Isaiah , at best, a weak and ignorant one. Second, by a serious inquiry into the state of our heart and ways: "Stand in awe, and sin not; commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still" ( Psalm 4:4). We need to frequently challenge and call ourselves to account. If we would have conscience speak to us, we must speak often to it. It is given us for this very reason that we may judge of our state and actions with respect to the judgment of God. Then "Let us search and try our ways" ( Lamentations 3:40). Take time, dear reader, to parley with yourself and consider how matters stand between you and God. Short reckonings prevent mistakes, so review each day and put right what has come between you and God.

Third, a uniform course of obedience: "Hereby we know that we are of the Truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him" ( 1 John 3:19). Fourth, by a constant alertness: "Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation" ( Matthew 26:41). Fifth, by a serious resistance and mortification of sin: cutting off the right hand and putting out the right eye. Sixth, by a sincere repentance and confession when conscious of failure. Seventh, by faith's appropriation of the cleansing blood of Christ.


Verse 19

Praying for Ministers

( Hebrews 13:18 , 19)

"Pray for us: for we trust we have a good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly. But I beseech you the rather to do this, that I may be restored to you the sooner." As was pointed out in the opening paragraph of the previous article, this passage is closely connected with verse 17 , where believers are commanded to obey their ecclesiastical leaders. Here is mentioned a further obligation of Christians unto those who minister to them in spiritual things, namely, that they should remember them before the throne of grace. A due observance of this exhortation would probably do more than anything else to counteract and countervail a widespread evil: those who plead with God for blessings upon the preacher are far less likely to go around criticizing them unto men. A spirit of faultfinding stifles the breath of intercession; countrariwise, a spirit of prayer will curb complaining and gossiping lips.

"Pray for us." The servants of Christ stand in real and urgent need of the prayers of their people. They are but men themselves, ignorant, weak, and erring, and unless they are granted a double portion of the Spirit they are not equipped for their arduous and honorable calling. They are the ones who bear the brunt of the battle, and are the special objects of Satan's attacks. They are often tempted to compromise, to keep back that which, though unpalatable to them, is most profitable for their hearers. In the face of many disappointments and discouragements, they are apt to grow weary in well doing. It Isaiah , then, both our duty and privilege to supplicate God on their behalf for daily supplies of grace to be granted them from on High; that they may be delivered from temptations, kept faithful, steadfast and devoted.

It is to be duly noted that this request was made by none other than the writer of this epistle; if, then, the greatest of the apostles stood in need of the intercessory support of his brethren, how much more so the rank and the of God's ministers. How tenderly, how earnestly, and how frequently Paul made this request! Here he adds, "I beseech you"—language used again in Romans 15:30 , where he besought the saints to strive together with him in their prayers to God. In 2Corinthians 1:11 he speaks of "helping together by prayer for us." A beautiful type of the efficacy of the prayers of God's people to support one of His servants is found in the holding up the hands of Moses ( Exodus 17:12), where we are significantly told, "And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed; and when he let down his hand Amalek prevailed."

"Pray for us." We agree with Owen that though the apostle here used the plural number (as was his general custom) that it was for himself alone he made this request: as the "I" in verse 19 intimates. It is a pre-eminently Pauline touch, and, as we pointed out in our second article of this series it supplies one of the many details which serve to identify the writer of this epistle. There is no record in the N.T. that any other of the apostles besought the prayers of the Church. Paul did so in no less than seven of his epistles: Romans 15:30 , Ephesians 6:19 , Colossians 4:3 , 1 Thessalonians 5:25 , 2 Thessalonians 3:1 , Philemon 1:22 and here. "He who labored more than the other apostles, and who was endowed with so many gifts, seems to have had the greatest craving for sympathy, for affection, for communion, and the most vivid conception that God only giveth the increase; that it is not by might nor by power, but by the Spirit of the Lord" (A. Saphir).

"Pray for us": though the immediate reference was to Paul himself, yet obviously the exhortation applies to all the servants of Christ, and is binding upon all to whom they minister. They are the ones, under God, through whom we receive the most good. Oftentimes they are, ministerially, our spiritual fathers ( 1 Corinthians 4:15), our spiritual nurses ( 1 Thessalonians 2:7), our guides, counselors, and nourishers. They are to be esteemed very highly for their work's sake ( 1 Thessalonians 5:13), and that esteem is to be evident by our constantly bearing them up before God in the arms of faith and love. To earnestly supplicate the throne of grace on their behalf, is the least return we can make them for their loving labors, sacrificial endeavor, faithful ministrations. There is no doubt that the more diligent the people are in discharging this duty, the more help and blessing are they likely to receive through their labors.

"Pray for us." The apostle was persuaded that all the blessing he needed could be obtained from God, and from Him alone, and that prayer was the appointed means of obtaining those blessings. Someone has said that "If the due obedience of the church by all its members, unto the rulers of it, be the best means of its edification and the chief cause of order and peace in the whole body, certainly prayer for its leaders and fellow-members is the appointed channel for obtaining it." Again, by requesting the prayers of the Hebrew Christians, Paul intimated the regard in which he held them as righteous men, whose prayers would "avail much." His request also signified his confidence in their love for him: a heart that tenderly and faithfully sought their good, doubted not the warmth of their affection for him. Prayer for each other is one of the principal parts of the communion of saints.

The apostle supported his plea for the prayers of his readers by a striking and powerful reason; "For we trust we have a good conscience in all things willing to live honestly." In saying "we trust" two things were intimated. First, his becoming modesty: there was no boastful "we know." Second, his assurance, for such language in Scripture does not express a doubt. Thus though there was confidence in his heart toward God, yet he expressed himself in humble terms—an example we do well to heed in this boastful and egoistic age. It is a grand thing when a minister of the Gospel can truly, though modestly, appeal to the faithful performance of his labors as a reason why he may claim the sympathy and support of his people. It is only when he sincerely aims to do the right and maintains a good conscience that the minister can, with propriety, ask for the prayers of his people.

Probably the reason why Paul here made particular reference to his earnest endeavor to maintain a good conscience, was because he had been so bitterly denounced by his own nation, and no doubt (for Satan was the same then as now) the most unfavorable reports about him had been circulated among the Hebrews. He had been cruelly scourged by his own countrymen, and unjustly imprisoned by the Romans , yet he had the witness within his own bosom that it was his desire and determination to always act with integrity. "Though my name be cast out as evil, and though I be suffering as a wrong-doer, yet I appeal to my faithfulness in the Gospel ministry; I do not walk in craftiness nor handle the Word of God deceitfully, nor do I make merchandise of the Gospel: I have genuinely sought to act honorably under all circumstances." Happy the man that can say that.

"For we trust that we have a good conscience." As we pointed out previously, the conscience is that faculty with which the Creator has endowed Prayer of Manasseh , whereby he is capable of judging his state and actions with respect to the judgment of God. Its office is twofold: to reveal sin to us, and to discover our duty, according to the light shining into it. There is a twofold light which men have to illumine conscience: natural reason and Scripture Revelation , and the Spirit applying the same. If the conscience has only the twilight of nature, as is the case with the heathen, it passes judgment on natural duties and unnatural sins, but if it enjoys the supernatural light of the Word, it judges of those sins and duties which can only be known by Divine revelation. It registers a permanent record in the soul. The more light we have, the greater is our responsibility: Luke 12:48.

Though the heathen possess not the Law delivered by revelation of God to them, yet they have, in their moral sensibilities, the substance of its precepts written in their hearts: Romans 2:15. When Paul said he had "lived in all good conscience before God until this day" ( Acts 23:1), it was parallel with his "touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless" ( Philippians 3:6): there was a conformity of his outward conduct to the light which he had in his conscience. Thus "those that say there is no use of the moral law to the Christian, may as well say there is no more use of the faculty of conscience in the soul of a Christian. Tear that faculty out of a man's heart, if you will tear out that other, namely, the obliging precepts. Even as if God would annul colors and light, He must also take away and close up the sense of sight" (Thomas Goodwin).

"The spirit of man is the candle of the Lord, searching all the inward parts of the belly" ( Proverbs 20:27). This moral sense has been rightly denominated the Divine spy in man's soul. Its checks and reproofs are a warning from God: it acts in His name, citing us before His tribunal. It receives its instruction and authority from God, and is accountable to Him and to none other—alas how many are regulated by the customs and fashions of this world, and live upon the opinions and reports of their fellows. Conscience is a part of that light which "lighteth every man that cometh into the world" ( John 1:9). In many passages both the "heart" ( 1 John 3:20) and the "spirit" ( Romans 8:16 , 1 Corinthians 2:11) signifies the conscience, while in Psalm 16:10 it is called the "reins." In yet other passages it is likened unto the physical "eye" ( Luke 11:34-36): as the eye is the most sensitive member of the body and its visual faculty so is the conscience to the soul.

Conscience, then, is God's witness within man: it is the voice of His Law directing and admonishing the heart, conveying to us a knowledge of right and wrong. Its functions are to give testimony and force a moral verdict. Its business is to pronounce upon each action, whether it be good or evil, with the reward or punishment belonging to it, and then by a reflex act it deposes or witnesses that we have done righteously or unrighteously. Yet while conscience convicts of sin, it in no wise helps us to believe the Gospel: on the contrary, its workings withstand faith. No matter to what extent the natural conscience be enlightened, it conduces nothing to faith, nay it is the greatest enemy to it that the heart of man hath. Faith is the gift of God, a supernatural bestowment, something which is the operation of the Holy Spirit, altogether apart from and transcending the greatest height to which the unaided faculties of fallen man can reach unto.

What has just been pointed out above may, at first sight, surprise the reader; yet it ought not. Conscience is fully capable of hearing what the Law says, for it is but the Law written in the heart naturally; but it is quite deaf to what the Gospel says, and understands not a word of it. If you speak to natural conscience about a Savior and urge it to believe on Him, its answer will be like unto that of the Jews (and it was this principle of conscience which made them so speak), "as for Moses we know that God spake unto him, but as for this fellow (Christ) we know not whence He is" ( John 9:29). Talk to a man of the Law, and conscience responds, for it knows what he ought to do; but as for the Gospel its voice is that of a stranger to him. Conscience is quite incapable of pointing out the way of deliverance from the condemnation and penalty of sin, yea, "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" ( John 3:3).

It is true that the more conscience be enlightened, the more will it discover to us all manner of sins, and rebuke us for them; yet conscience alone will never discover unbelief to us, and convict us of its heinousness—only the immediate light of the Holy Spirit shining in the heart will do that. There are two great sins which lie outside the jurisdiction of conscience to set them upon the heart, ordinarily. First, the guilt of Adam's original transgression, which has been justly imputed unto all his posterity. An instructed conscience may perceive the depravity and corruption of a nature which has resulted from our fall in Adam, but it will not convict of that fatal condemnation we lie under because of our first father's offense. Second, conscience will not acquaint us with our lack of faith in Christ, and that this is the sin of all sins; only the special operation of the Spirit upon the quickened heart can accomplish this. Examine those who are most troubled in conscience, and it will be found that none of them are burdened because of their unbelief.

Until conscience be subordinated unto faith, it is the greatest hindrance to believing which the natural man hath. What is the chief obstacle which an awakened and convicted soul encounters? Why, the greatness of his sins, his heart telling him that he is beyond the reach of mercy, and it is naught but the accusations of a guilty conscience which produces that sense of hopelessness in the heart. Conscience brings our sins to light, makes them to stare us in the face, and terrifies us with their enormity. Conscience it is which tells a distressed soul that salvation is far off from such an one as I am. Conscience will set us working and doing, but only in a legal way: so far from leading us into the path of true peace, it will take us farther away from it. Thus it was with the Jews of old, and thus it is still: "For they, being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness" ( Romans 10:3).

In the case of a Christian, conscience and faith supplement each other in their workings. If conscience convicts of sin or rebukes for the omission of duty, faith eyes the mercy of God in Christ, penitently confesses the fault, and seeks cleansing through the precious blood. "The worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins" ( Hebrews 10:2)—no more apprehensions of them as standing against us. It is the believer's bounden duty to maintain a good conscience: 1 Timothy 1:19; 3:9 , but in order to that there must be a continual judging of ourselves and our ways. The revealed will of God is its only rule, for nothing else can lawfully bind it; therefore it is infinitely better to offend the whole world than God and conscience. "All my familiars watched for my halting, saying, Peradventure he will be enticed and we shall prevail against him," and what was the prophet's response and recourse? This, "But Thou, O Lord of hosts, that triest the righteous and seest the reins and the heart, let me see Thy vengeance on them: for unto Thee have I opened my cause" ( Jeremiah 20:10 , 12).

The sole rule to regulate the conscience of the Christian is God's written Word, for "whatsoever is not of faith (and therefore according to the Word: ( Romans 10:17) is sin" ( Romans 14:23); that Isaiah , whatsoever is not done from a settled persuasion of judgment and conscience out of the Word, is sin. The defects of a good conscience are, First, ignorance or error: some children of God are very imperfectly established in the Truth and are much confused as to what is right and wrong in the sight of God, especially in things indifferent, concerning which there is much difference of opinion. They understand not that liberty which Christ has purchased for His people ( Galatians 5:1), whereby they are free to make a right and good use of all things indifferent—i.e, things not specifically forbidden by Scripture. "Wine that maketh glad the heart of Prayer of Manasseh , and oil to make his face shine" ( Psalm 104:15), which goes beyond bare necessities; to which we may add those innocent recreations which refresh mind and body. How to make a proper use of such things is defined in 1Timothy 4:4 , 5.

Second, and closely connected with the preceding, is what Scripture calls a "weak conscience" ( 1 Corinthians 8:12), which is due to lack of light, wrong teaching, to personal prejudice and idiosyncrasies. It is often trying and difficult to know how to act towards those thus afflicted: on the one hand, love desires their good, and must be patient with them and refrain from acting recklessly and needlessly wounding them; but on the other hand, their fads and scruples are not to he so yielded to by us that our own spiritual liberty is annulled—Christ Himself refused to bring His disciples into bondage by yielding to the traditions of men ( Mark 7:2), even though He knew they were spying for some fault in Him, and would be offended by His conduct. Third, a doubting conscience: Romans 14: 22 , 23. Fourth, a wounded conscience, whose peace is disturbed by unrepented and unconfessed sins.

The benefits and blessings are indeed rich compensation for every effort we make to maintain a good conscience. First, it gives us confidence Godwards. When we have sinned away our peace there is a strangeness and distance between the soul and the Holy One. When our inward monitor convicts and condemns us, the heart grows shy of God, so that we cannot so comfortably look Him in the face. It is only when everything is made right with God, by contrite confession and faith's appropriation of the cleansing blood of Christ, that we can approach the throne of grace with boldness. "Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience" ( Hebrews 10:22)—i.e. a conscience which no longer accuses us before God. "If I regard iniquity in my heart (which is inconsistent with a good conscience) the Lord will not hear me" ( Psalm 66:18); but on the other hand "If our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God; and whatsoever we ask, we receive of Him, because we keep His commandment and do those things that are pleasing in His sight" ( 1 John 3:21 , 22).

Second, a clear conscience affords his chief relief when the believer is falsely accused and aspersed by his enemies. What unspeakable consolation is ours when we can rightfully appropriate that benediction of Christ, "Blessed are ye when men shall revile you and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely, for My sake" ( Matthew 5:11). This was the case with the apostle Paul: "For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that In simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly Wisdom of Solomon , but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world" ( 2 Corinthians 1:12). Third, a clear conscience vindicates its possessor against the accusations of Satan. The great enemy of our souls is constantly seeking to take away our peace and joy, and we are powerless against his onslaughts when a guilty conscience confirms his charges. But when we can appeal to a pure conscience and expose his lies, then his fiery darts are successfully quenched. The Psalmist was very bold when he said—see Psalm 7:3 , 4 , 5 , 8.

Fourth, a pure conscience gives great advantage to its possessor when he is lawfully reproving others. The admonitions of that Christian whose life is inconsistent have no weight but he who walks closely with God speaks with authority. That man who is upright before God and his fellows, wields a moral force which is felt even by the ungodly. Finally, a peaceful conscience affords unspeakable comfort in a dying hour. When one has the inward witness that, despite many failures, he has sincerely endeavored to do that which was right before God and unto his fellows, he has an easy pillow to rest his head upon. "Remember now, O Lord, I beseech Thee, how I have walked before Thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in Thy sight" ( Isaiah 38:3): that was an appeal to a good conscience by one who was "sick unto death."

Paul's testimony of his having a good conscience consisted in this: "in all things willing to live honestly." A resolute will and a sincere endeavor to act rightly under all circumstances is the fruit and evidence of a good conscience. Being "willing" signifies a desire and readiness, with an accompanying effort and diligence. "In all things" takes in our whole duty to God and Prayer of Manasseh , expresses the strictness and exactness of the apostle's course to maintain a conscience "void of offense" ( Acts 24:16). What a striking commentary upon this declaration of Paul's is furnished in the account of his manner of life at Ephesus: see Acts 20:18-27. How his devotion, fidelity, and constancy puts to shame the flesh-loving indolence of so many preachers today. What strictness of conscience God requires from His servants: as the least bit of grit in the eye hinders its usefulness, so any sin trifled with will trouble a tender conscience.

We are commanded to "Provide things honest in the sight of all men" ( Romans 12:17): a good conscience respects the second table of the Law equally with the first, so that we owe no man anything and are not afraid to look anybody in the face. Any faith which does not produce an impartial and universal obedience, is worthless. All the mysteries of our most holy faith are mysteries of godliness ( 1 Timothy 1:9; 3:16). But if the Word of God has come to us in word only and not in power, then are we but Christians of the letter and not of the spirit. Alas, how many today are sound in doctrine and have a carnal assurance of eternal life, yet who exercise themselves not to maintain a conscience void of offense. Alas, alas, what a conscienceless age our lot is cast in. How many souls are stumbled by the loose living of the majority of those who now profess to believe the Gospel.

"In all things willing to live honestly." We are exhorted to have our conversation "honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation" ( 1 Peter 2:12). The Greek word in our text expresses more than is commonly understood by "honestly," being the same as that used in "He hath done all things well" ( Mark 7:37). Its real force is "excellently" or "honorably." In his "in all things willing to live honestly" the apostle again expresses his humility and truthfulness. A sincere desire and a diligent endeavor so to act is the highest perfection attainable in this life, for we all fail in the carrying out of it. Thus, in all ages the saints have prayed, "O Lord, I beseech Thee, let now Thine ear be attentive to the prayer of Thy servant, and to the prayer of Thy servants, who desire to fear Thy name" ( Nehemiah 1:11). It is blessed to be assured by God Himself that "For if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not" ( 2 Corinthians 8:12).

"But I beseech you the rather to do this, that I may be restored to you the sooner" (verse 19). In this verse Paul added a further reason why he desired the Hebrew saints to pray for him. Many things are intimated therein: that he had been with them previously, but circumstances over which he had no control now prevented his return—the best of ministers may be kept from their people ( 1 Kings 22:27 , Jeremiah 38:6); that he greatly desired to come to them again, which shows that not his own comfort (deliverance from prison) but their good was uppermost in his mind; that he had strong confidence in the prevalency of prayer and of their affection for him. "When ministers come to a people as a return of prayer, they come with greater satisfaction to themselves and success to the people. We should fetch in all our mercies by prayer" (Matthew Henry.

The language used here by Paul denotes that he believed man's goings are of the Lord, that He disposes the affairs of the Church much according to their prayers, to His glory and their consolation. "That I may be restored to you the sooner" is very striking, showing that Paul was no blind fatalist: if God had decreed the exact hour, how could prayer bring it to pass "the sooner"? Ah, it is utterly vain for us to reason about or philosophize over the consistency between God's eternal decrees and prayer: sufficient for us to be assured from Scripture that prayer is both a bounden duty and blessed privilege. It is God's way to make us feel the need of and then ask for the bestowment of His mercies before He gives them: Ezekiel 36:37. We know not if this prayer was answered, nor is it at all material: "according to our present apprehensions of duty we may lawfully have earnest desires after, and pray for such things, as shall not come to pass. The secret purposes of God are not the rule of prayer" (John Owen).


Verse 20

The Apostle's Prayer

( Hebrews 13:20 , 21)

"Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do His will, working in you that which is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen" (verses 20 , 21). Let us begin by considering the connection which these verses have with what precedes: first with their wider context and then with their more immediate. In them there is really a gathering up into a brief but comprehensive sentence of the whole of what had been previously set forth, except that the apostle here prays there might be wrought in the Hebrews that unto which they had been exhorted. The substance of the whole doctrinal portion of the epistle is included therein, and the apostle now begs God to apply to the hearts of his readers the benefits and fruit of all the important instruction which he had presented to them. These verses, then, form a fitting conclusion, for what follows them is virtually a postscript.

Viewing our text in the light of its immediate context, we perceive a blessed exemplification of the fact that the apostle practiced what he preached, for what he had required from his readers he is here seen doing for them. In verses 18 , 19 he had besought the prayers of the Hebrews on his behalf, and now we find him supplicating the Throne of Grace on their behalf. What a blessed example the chief of the apostles has left unto all whom Christ has called unto public service. If ministers desire the prayers of their people, then let them see to it that they are not backward in praying for those God has committed to their charge. This is an essential part of the minister's functions. It is not sufficient that he faithfully preaches the Word: he must also fervently and frequently ask God to bless that Word unto those who have heard him. O that all who are called to the sacred office may feelingly exclaim "God forbid that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you" ( 1 Samuel 12:23).

The verses which are now before us are in the form of an apostolic benediction or prayer. In them is set forth, in a striking and appropriate manner, the Object to whom the prayer was offered, following which is the matter for which supplication was made. In this article we shall confine ourselves unto the former. The Person to whom the apostle prayed is here described first by one of His titles, namely, "the God of peace"; and then by one of His works, the raising of Christ from the dead, and this in turn is ascribed unto the blood of the everlasting covenant. Those who have followed us through this lengthy series of articles may perceive how aptly the apostle reduces his grand exposition of the superiority of Christianity over Judaism unto these three chief heads: the God of peace, the risen Shepherd of the sheep, the blood of the everlasting covenant.

"The God of peace." The varied manner in which God refers to Himself in Scripture, the different appellations He there assumes, are not regulated by caprice, but ordered by infinite wisdom; and we lose much if we fail to weigh diligently each one. It is not for the mere sake of variation in diction, but each distinguishing title is selected in strict accord with its setting. He is spoken of as "The God of patience and hope" in Romans 15:5 , because that is in keeping with the subject of the four previous verses. In Romans 16:27 He is addressed "To God only wise," because the immediate context has made known the revelation of the mystery wherein His inscrutable wisdom had been veiled. Before considering the significance of "the God of peace," let it be pointed out that it is an entirely Pauline expression, occurring nowhere in the writing of any other apostle—another identifying mark of the penman of this epistle. It is found in Romans 15:33,16:20 , 2 Corinthians 13:11 , Philippians 4:9 , 1 Thessalonians 5:23 , 2 Thessalonians 3:16 , and here—seven times in all.

"The God of peace." First, this title contemplates God in relation to His people, and not mankind in general; yet in His forensic character, that Isaiah , in His office of Judge. It will be remembered that in that blessed passage where the two covenants are placed in antithesis and Sion is contrasted from Sinai, it is said, "But ye are come... to God the Judge of all" ( Hebrews 12:23), which is the climacteric feature of the Gospel. The face of the Supreme Judge is wreathed in smiles of benignity as He beholds His people in the face of His Anointed. But it was not always thus. On the morning of creation as God saw us in Adam, our federal head, He viewed us with complacency, as "very good" ( Genesis 131). But alas! sin came in, a breach was made between the Creator and the creature, and a state of alienation, mutual alienation, ensued, for a holy God could not be at peace with sin.

It needs to be clearly recognized that from the beginning God has sustained other relationships to man than those of Creator and Benefactor. Adam, and the human race in him, were placed under law, and therefore became subject to Divine government. In consequence of this, God was his Lord, his King, his Judge. While he remained in loyal subjection unto the Divine authority, yielding obedience to the King's laws, His favor was enjoyed, but when he transgressed, all was altered. Sin has not only defiled Prayer of Manasseh , corrupting the whole of his nature, but it has brought him under the curse of the Divine law, and has subjected him to the Divine wrath. Fallen Prayer of Manasseh , then has to do with an offended Judge. This was speedily made evident unto the original rebel, for we read, "therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from where he was taken. So He drove out the man" ( Genesis 3:23 , 24).

Alas, how little is this most solemn aspect of the Truth preached today! Sin has not only vitiated our nature, it has alienated us from God: as it is written "alienated from the life of God" ( Ephesians 4:18). Man has not only lost the image of God in which he was created, but he had forfeited the favor of God in which he was instated. In consequence of the fall, there is a mutual antagonism between God and man. Sin has made a breach between them, so that all the harmony and concord which there was, both spiritual and judicial, has been completely destroyed. Not only is the carnal mind "enmity against God" ( Romans 8:7), "the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men" ( Romans 1:18). That God is alienated from the sinner and antagonistic to him, is as clearly taught in the Scriptures as is man's enmity against God.

The One with whom fallen man has to do, is his outraged King and offended Judges , and His own Word leaves us in no doubt as to His judicial attitude toward the fallen creature. "Thou hatest all workers of iniquity" ( Psalm 5:5). "God is angry with the wicked every day" ( Psalm 7:11). "But they rebelled and vexed His Holy Spirit: therefore He was turned to be their Enemy, He fought against them" ( Isaiah 63:10). It was for this reason that none other than our blessed Redeemer said, "Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear Him which is able to destroy both soul and body in Hell" ( Matthew 10:28), which is to be understood not simply of God's absolute power or omnipotency, but also and chiefly of His judicial power or rightful authority, as we are His prisoners and obnoxious to His judgments. Why is the modern pulpit so culpably silent upon these and similar passages?

God's holiness burns against sin, and His justice clamors for satisfaction. But is He not also of infinite mercy? Blessed be His name, He Isaiah , nevertheless His mercy does not override and nullify His other perfections. Grace reigns but it reigns "through righteousness" ( Romans 5:21), and not at the expense of it. When therefore God had designs of mercy toward His people—who sinned and fell in Adam, in common with the non-elect—His wisdom contrived a way whereby His mercy might be exercised consistently with His holiness, yea, in such a way, that His law was magnified and His justice satisfied. This grand contrivance was revealed in the terms of the Everlasting Covenant, which was entered into between God and the Mediator before the foundation of the world, but in view of the entrance of sin and the fall of the elect in Adam. Christ undertook to restore the breach which had been made, to effect a perfect reconciliation between God and His people, to make full satisfaction for all the harm which sin had done to God's manifestative glory.

Many, adopting the horrible heresy of the Socinians ("Unitarians"), will not allow that the reconciliation is mutual: but God has been reconciled to His people as truly as they to Him. As we have shown above, the Scriptures not only speak of enmity on men's part but also of wrath on God's part, and that, not only against sin but sinners themselves, and not the non-elect merely, but the elect too, for we "were by nature the children of wrath (yes, of "wrath" in addition to depravity!) even as others" ( Ephesians 2:3). Sin placed God and His people at judicial variance: they the parties offending, He the party offended. Hence, for Christ to effect perfect conciliation, it was required that He turn away the judicial wrath of God from His people, and in order to this, Christ offered Himself a propitiatory sacrifice to God, Himself bearing that wrath which was due to them.

This central truth in the Atonement, now so generally repudiated, was portrayed again and again in the O.T. types. For instance, when Israel sinned so grievously in connection with the golden calf, we find Jehovah saying to Moses, "Now therefore let Me alone, that My wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them" ( Exodus 32:10). But notice how blessedly the immediate sequel shows us the typical mediator interposing between the righteous anger of Jehovah and His sinning people, and turning away His wrath from them: see verses 11-14. Again we read in Numbers 16 that upon the rebellion of Korah and his company, the Lord said unto Moses "Get you up from among this congregation, that I may consume them as in a moment" (verse 45). Whereupon Moses said unto Aaron "Take a censer, and put fire therein from off the altar, and put on incense, and go quickly unto the congregation, and make an atonement for them; for there is wrath gone out from the Lord: the plague is begun." Aaron did Song of Solomon , and we are told, "he stood between the dead and the living, and the plague was stayed" (verses 46 , 48).

Surely nothing could be plainer than the above examples, to which many others might be added. All through the patriarchal and Mosaic economies we find that sacrifices were offered for the specific purpose of averting God's righteous wrath, to appease His judicial displeasure, to turn away His anger, the effect of which being expressly termed a "reconciliation:" see Leviticus 16:20 , 2 Chronicles 29:24 , Daniel 9:24. Most obviously the Israelites offered not their sacrifices to turn away their own enmity against God. Inasmuch, then, as those O.T. sacrifices were foreshadowings of Christ's oblation, what a turning of things upside-down is it to affirm that the great end of Christ's work was to reconcile sinners to God, instead of to divert God's wrath from us. The testimony of the N.T. is equally plain and emphatic: then let us bow to the same, instead of resisting and reasoning against it.

Of Christ it is said, "Whom God hath set forth a propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare (not His love or grace, but) His righteousness" ( Romans 3:25). Now a "propitiation" is that which placates or appeases by satisfying offended justice. The force of this verse is by no means weakened by the fact that the Greek word for "propitiation" is rendered "mercyseat" in Hebrews 9:5 , for the mercyseat was a blood-sprinkled one. It was the place where the typical mediator applied the atoning sacrifice for the satisfying of God's justice against the sins of His people. As a matter of fact the Hebrew word for "mercyseat" signifies "a covering," and it was so designated for two reasons: first, because it covered the ark, hiding from view the condemning Law—the tables of stone beneath it; and second, because the blood sprinkled upon it covered the offenses of Israel from the eye of offended justice by an adequate compensation. Thus it fittingly portrayed the averting of deserved vengeance by means of a substitutionary interposition.

"For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son; much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life" ( Romans 5:10). Yes, when we were "enemies," God's enemies—obnoxious to His righteous judgment. This term denotes the relation in which we stood to God as the objects of His governmental displeasure and subject to the curse of His law. But we were "reconciled," that Isaiah , restored unto His favor, and that, not by the Spirit's work in us subduing our enmity, but by "the death"—the propitiatory sacrifice—of God's Son. That this statement refers to the turning away of God's anger from us and the restoring us to His favor is clear from the previous verse: "Much more then, being now justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him." Now to be "justified is the same as God's being reconciled to us, His acceptance of us into His favor, and not our conversion to Him. Being "justified by His blood" points to the procuring cause of our justification, and that blood was shed that we might be "saved from wrath." God is now pacified toward us, because His wrath was exhausted upon our Surety and Substitute.

"That He might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby" ( Ephesians 2:16). "That Hebrews ," that Isaiah , the Mediator, the incarnate Son. "Might reconcile," that Isaiah , restore to God's judicial favor. "Both," that Isaiah , elect Jews and elect Gentiles. "Unto God," that Isaiah , considered as the moral Governor of the world, the Judge of all the earth. "In one body," that Isaiah , Christ's humanity, "the body of His flesh" ( Colossians 1:22)—here designated "one body" to emphasize the representative character of Christ's atonement, as He sustained the responsibilities and liabilities of all His people: it is the One acting on behalf of the many as in Romans 5:17-19. "Having slain the enmity thereby," that Isaiah , God's holy wrath, the hostility of His law. The "enmity" of verse 16 cannot possibly refer to that which existed between Jews and Gentiles, for that is disposed of in verses 14 , 15. "Enmity" is here personified ("slain") as "sin" as in Romans 8:3. Thus, Ephesians 2:16 signifies, that all the sins of God's people meeting on Christ, Divine justice took satisfaction from Him, and in consequence God's "enmity" has ceased, and we are restored to His favor.

Let it not be thought that we are here inculcating the idea that Christ died in order to render God compassionate toward His people. Not Song of Solomon , the Father Himself is the Author of reconciliation: 2 Corinthians 5:19. The gracious means by which He designed to effect the reconciliation originated in His own love, yet the atonement of Christ was the righteous instrument of removing the breach between us. The term is entirely a forensic one, contemplating God in His office as Judge. It concerns our relationship to Him not as our Creator, or as our Father, but as our King. The reconciliation which Christ has effected wrought no change in God Himself, but it has in the administration of His government: His law now regards with approbation those against whom it was formerly hostile. Reconciliation means that transgressors have been restored to the judicial favor of God through Christ's having closed the breach which sin had made. It was the amazing love of God which gave Christ to die for us, and His atonement was in order to the removing of those legal obstacles which our sins had interposed against God's love flowing out to us in a way consistent with the honor of His justice.

The great controversy between God and His people has been settled. The fearful breach which their sins occasioned has been repaired. The Prince of peace has silenced the accusations of the law and removed our sins from before God's face. Peace has been made—not a peace at any price, not at the cost of righteousness flouted; no, an honorable peace. "The God of peace," then signifies, first, the Judge of all is pacified; second, the King of Heaven has been reconciled to us; third, Jehovah, by virtue of His covenant-promises, has received us to His favor—for while He continued offended, we could not receive any gifts of grace from Him. Just as surely as Christ turned away God's wrath from His elect, so does He in due time send the Holy Spirit into their hearts to destroy their enmity against God, this being a consequence of the former.

We trust that what is next to be before us will render yet more intelligible and forcible all that has been said above. "That brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus." Here is the grand evidence that God is pacified toward us. When God raised Christ from the dead, He showed that He was propitiated, that He had accepted the ransom which had been given for our redemption. Let it be carefully noted that in our present verse it is the Father who is said to raise Christ, and that, in His character of "the God of peace." We will consider these two things separately. There is an order preserved in the personal operations of the Godhead. Resurrection was a work of Divine power, and that Divine power belongs in common to Father, Song of Solomon , and Holy Spirit, who being one and the same God concur in the same work. Yet They concur in a way proper to Them: in all Their personal operations it is ascribed to the Father, as the Fountain of working and Wellhead of all grace, who doth all things from Himself, yet by the Son and Spirit.

In the grand mystery of redemption God the Father sustains the office of supreme Judges , and hence we read "Let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ" ( Acts 2:36 and cf 10:36). So it is in our text: the raising of Christ is there viewed not so much as an act of Divine power, as of rectoral justice. It is God exercising His judicial authority which is emphasized, as is clear from the particular terms used. We are ever the losers if, in our carelessness, we fail to note each single variation of language. It is not who "raised again," but "brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus." The force of that expression may be ascertained by comparing Acts 16:35 , 37 , 39. The apostles had been unlawfully imprisoned, and when, later, the magistrates bade them go forth, they refused, demanding an official delivery; and we are told "they came and brought them out of prison"—compare also John 19:4 , 13for the force of this term "brought."

When Christ was in the state of the dead, He was in effect a prisoner under the arrest of Divine vengeance; but when He was raised, then was our Savior let out of prison, and the word "brought again" suitably expresses that fact. Christ possessed the power to raise Himself—and considering His death and burial from another angle, He exercised that power; but in His official character as Surety, He lacked the necessary authority. The God of peace sent an angel to remove the stone from the sepulcher, not to supply any lack of power in Christ, but as the judge when he is satisfied sends an officer to open the prison doors. It was God Himself, as the Judge of all, who "delivered" Christ up for our offenses, and it was God who raised Him for our justification ( Romans 4:25). This was very blessed, for it evidences the perfect subjection of the Son to the Father even in the grave: He did not exercise His might and break prison, but waited till God brought Him forth honorably from the dead.

Let us next observe the particular office Christ sustained when the God of peace brought Him again from the dead: "that great Shepherd of the sheep." Note, not "the," but "that great Shepherd," because Paul was writing to those who were familiar with the O.T. "That Shepherd" signifies the One who was promised in such passages as "He shall feed His flock like a shepherd: He shall gather the lambs with His arm and carry them in His bosom" ( Isaiah 40:11), "And I will set up one Shepherd over them, and He shall feed them, even My Servant David: He shall feed them, and He shall be their Shepherd" ( Ezekiel 34:23)—the Object of the faith and hope of the Church from the beginning. Into the hands of our blessed Redeemer God placed His flock, to be justified and sanctified by Him. Let it be duly recognized that a shepherd is not the lord of the flock, but a servant to take charge of and care for it: "Thine they were, and Thou gavest them Me" ( John 17:6) said Christ.

Christ is the "Shepherd of the sheep" and not of the "wolves" ( Luke 10:3)or the "goats" ( Matthew 25:32 , 33), for He has received no charge from God to save them—how the basic truth of particular redemption stares us in the face on almost every page of Holy Writ! There are three main passages in the N.T. where Christ is viewed in this particular character. He is "the good Shepherd" ( John 10:11) in death, the "great Shepherd" in resurrection, and the "chief Shepherd" in glory ( 1 Peter 5:4). The "great Shepherd" of the sheep calls attention to the excellency of His person, while the "chief Shepherd" emphasizes His superiority over all His un-dershepherds or pastors, the One from whom they receive their authority. How jealously the Holy Spirit guarded the glory of Christ at every point: He is not only the "Shepherd" but "that great Shepherd," just as He is not only High Priest, but our "great High Priest" ( Hebrews 4:14), and not merely King, but "the King of kings."

"Through the blood of the everlasting covenant." This is obviously an allusion to "As for Thee also, by the blood of Thy covenant I have sent forth Thy prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water"—the grave ( Zechariah 9:11). What is said of Christ is often applied to the Church, and here what is said of the Church is applied to Christ, for together they form "one Body." If, then, He was brought back from the dead through the blood of the everlasting covenant, much more shall we be. To say that God brought again from the dead "that great Shepherd of the sheep" means, He was raised not as a private person, but as the public Representative of His people. "The blood of the everlasting covenant" was the meritorious cause; as it was "by His own blood He entered in once into the Holy Place" ( Hebrews 9:12) and that we have "boldness to enter into the Holiest by the blood of Jesus" (10:19), so it is according to the infinite value of His atoning blood that both the Shepherd and His sheep are delivered from the grave.

As Christ (and His people) was brought into death by the sentence of the Law, so from it He was restored by the law's Administrator, and this according to His agreement with Him before the foundation of the world. This it is which gives additional meaning to the Divine title at the beginning of our verse: He is called "the God of peace" from that compact which He made with the Mediator, concerning which we read, "The counsel of peace shall be between Them Both" ( Zechariah 6:13); "My kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of My peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee" ( Isaiah 54:10). The older commentators were about equally divided as to whether the final clause of our verse refers to that eternal agreement between God and the Mediator or to the new testament or covenant ( Matthew 26:28); personally, we believe that both are included. The new covenant (about which we hope to have more to say later in our Covenant articles) is proclaimed in the Gospel, wherein is made known the terms on which we personally enter into the peace which Christ has made, namely, repentance, faith, and obedience. The new covenant is ratified by Christ's blood, and it is "everlasting" because its blessings are eternal


Verse 21

The Apostle's Prayer

( Hebrews 13:20 , 21)

"Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant; make you perfect in every good work to do His will: working in you that which is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ." Though this be in the form of a prayer yet it presents a succinct summary of the entire doctrine of the epistle. The "blood of the everlasting covenant" stands over against "the blood of bulls and of goats," that "great Shepherd of the sheep," risen from the dead, is in contrast from Moses, Joshua , David, etc, who had long ago died; while "the God of peace" presents a striking antithesis to Jehovah's descent upon Sinai "in fire." Let us briefly consider these three things again, but this time in their inverse order.

"Through the blood of the everlasting covenant." We consider that this clause has a threefold force, that it is connected—both grammatically and doctrinally—with each of the preceding clauses. First, it is through the blood which He shed for sinners that Christ became the great Shepherd of the sheep—He was so previously by ordination, but He became so actually by impetration—the sheep were now His purchased property. Second, it was through or because of the atoning blood that God delivered Christ from the grave, for having fully satisfied Divine justice He was fully entitled to deliverance from prison. Third, it was through or by virtue of the pacifying blood of Christ that God henceforth became "the God of peace" unto His people, the whole controversy which their sins raised having been satisfactorily settled. And Christ shed His precious blood in fulfillment of the stipulations of the Everlasting Covenant, or that agreement which He entered into with the Father before the foundation of the world.

"That brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep." "The Father is frequently said to raise Christ from the dead because of His sovereign authority in the disposal of the whole work of redemption, which is every where ascribed unto Him. Christ is said to raise Himself or take His life again when He was dead, because of the immediate efficiency of His Divine person therein. But more is intended here than an act of Divine power, whereby the human nature of Christ was quickened. The word used is peculiar, signifying a recovery out of a certain state: a moral act of authority is intended. Christ as the great Shepherd of the sheep was brought into the state of death by the sentence of the Law, and was therefrom restored by the God of peace, to evidence that peace was now perfectly made. The bare resurrection of Christ would not have saved us, for so any other man may be raised by the power of God; but the bringing of Christ from the dead through the blood of the everlasting covenant is that which gives assurance of the complete redemption of the Church (condensed from Owen).

"The God of peace." He is such first, because He takes this title from the Covenant itself ( Isaiah 54:10). He is so second, because as the supreme Judge He is pacified, and that because His law has received perfect satisfaction from our Surety. He is so third, because He Isaiah , in consequence, reconciled to us. Having accepted the person, obedience, and soul-travail of Christ, God is at peace with all His people in Him. Because He is at peace with them, He freely pardons all their iniquities and bestows every needed blessing upon them. When God removes from us all penalties and evils, and gives unto us all the privileges and good of the justified (such as the Holy Spirit to break the power and reign of sin in us) it is as the "God of peace" He does so; yea, as the supreme Judges , acting according to the principles of His government constituted in the everlasting covenant, by virtue of the merits of Christ and of our interest in Him.

God is also called "the God of peace" because He is the Author of that tranquility which is felt at times in the hearts and consciences of His people, as He is also the Lover of that concord which obtains in measure among them upon earth. Owen suggests a further reason why the apostle uses this Divine title here. "He might have also herein an especial respect to the present state of the Hebrews , for it is evident that they had been tossed, perplexed, and disquieted with various doctrines and pleas about the law, and the observance of its institutions. Wherefore, having performed his part and duty in the communication of the truth to them for the information of their judgments, he now in the close of the whole applies himself by prayer to the God of peace: that Hebrews , who alone is the Author of it, who creates it where He pleaseth, would, through his instruction, give rest and peace to their minds" (John Owen).

So completely is God appeased that there is a new covenant procured and constituted, namely, the Christian Covenant, called here "the everlasting covenant." First, because it shall never be repealed and continueth unalterable, the called obtaining by it the title and possession of an eternal inheritance ( Hebrews 9:15). Second, because Christ's atoning blood is the foundation of this covenant, and as the virtue of it never ceaseth, therefore is it made effectual to secure its end, namely, the eternal salvation of sinful men who are converted and reconciled to God. This new covenant is also designated "the Covenant of Peace:" "I will make a covenant of peace with them" ( Ezekiel 37:26). First, because in the same this peace and reconciliation is published, and offered to us: "The word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ" ( Acts 10:36 and cf. Ephesians 2:17), because in this covenant the terms of this peace between us and God are stated: God binding Himself to give to sinful men forgiveness of sins and eternal life upon the conditions of repentance, faith, and new obedience.

A most important practical question Isaiah , How do we come to be interested in this Divine peace and reconciliation? A threefold answer may be returned: by ordination, impetration, and application. First, by the Father's eternal decree or foreordination, for as to who should enter into the same has not been left to chance; hence, God's elect are termed "the sons of peace" ( Luke 10:6). Second, by the Son's impetration or paying the purchase price: "having made peace through the blood of His cross, by Him to reconcile all things unto Himself" ( Colossians 1:20). Third, by the Spirit's application, who subdues our enmity, bends our stubborn wills, softens our hard hearts, overcomes our self-righteousness, and brings us into the dust before God as self-condemned criminals suing for mercy. It is at our conversions this Divine peace is actually conveyed to us, for it is only then that God's wrath is removed from us ( John 3:36) and that we are restored to His favor. Further grace is given us day by day as those already reconciled to God.

A final reason may now be advanced why God is here addressed as "the God of peace," and that Isaiah , to afford us valuable instruction in connection with prayer. It is very striking to note that in more than half of the passages where this particular Divine title occurs, it is where He is being supplicated—the reader may verify this for himself by consulting Romans 15:33,16:20 , 2 Corinthians 13:11 , Philippians 4:9 , 1 Thessalonians 5:23 , 2 Thessalonians 3:16 , and here. Thus, it is employed for the purpose of encouraging us in our addresses at the Throne of Grace. Nothing will impart more confidence and enlarge our hearts more than the realization God has laid aside His wrath, and has only thoughts of grace toward us. Nothing will inspire more liberty of spirit than to look upon God as reconciled to us by Jesus Christ: "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: by whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand" ( Romans 5:1 , 2).

"Make you perfect in every good work to do His will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ." Before taking up the coherency of this sentence let us point out the great practical lesson it contains. No matter how diligent the minister has been in his pulpit preparations, nor how faithfully he has delivered his message, his duty is by no means then fully discharged: he needs to retire to the closet and beg God to apply the sermon to those who heard it, to write it on their hearts, to make it effectual unto their lasting good. This is what the great apostle did. In the body of this epistle he had exhorted the Hebrews unto many good works, and now he prays that God will enable them thereto. The same thing holds good for those in the pew. It is not enough to listen reverently and carefully, we must also entreat God to bless unto us what we have heard. It is failure at this point which makes so much hearing unprofitable.

Though the apostle's prayer be brief, it is a most comprehensive one. It makes known the method by which Divine grace is administered to us. The grand fountain of it is God Himself, as He is the God of peace: that Isaiah , as in the eternal counsel of His will, He designed grace and peace unto poor sinners, agreeably to His goodness, Wisdom of Solomon , justice and holiness. The channel through which Divine grace is communicated, and that in a way suitable in His death and resurrection. God would have us know that while He is Himself the Giver, yet it is our Surety who merited for us every spiritual blessing we enjoy. The nature of this Divine grace relates particularly to our sanctification or perfecting, and this is expressed under the two heads of this prayer, namely, the grand end to be ever kept in view, and the means whereby that end is attained.

Having dwelt at some length upon the solemn manner in which the apostle addressed the Throne of Grace, we now turn to contemplate the import of his prayer, observing the two things here asked for the Hebrews. The first was that God would "make them perfect in every good work to do His will." This will require us to enquire into the meaning of this petition, to ponder its extensiveness, and then to mark its implications. Different writers have given various definitions to the "make you perfect," though they all amount to much the same thing. Thos. Scott gives "rectifying every disorder of their souls and completely fitting them for every part of His holy service." Matthew Henry enters into more detail: "A perfection of integrity, a clear mind, a clean heart, lively affections, regular and renewed wills, and suitable strength for every good work to which they are called."

Owen rendered it "make you meet, fit and able." And adds "It is not an absolute perfection that is intended, nor do the words signify any such thing, but it is to bring the faculties of the mind into that order so as to dispose, prepare, and enable them, so that they may work accordingly." The Greek word for "make you perfect" is rendered "fitted" in Romans 9:22 , "framed" in Hebrews 11:3 , and "prepared" in Hebrews 10:5 , where the product of Divine workmanship is seen in each instance. In the case before us it is the gracious operations of the Holy Spirit in connection with the progressive sanctification of the believer. Personally, we regard the definition of Scott (given above) as the best: the most accurate and elucidating.

The work of Divine grace in the elect begins when they are born again by the quickening operations of the Holy Spirit, and this work of grace is continued throughout the whole of their remaining days upon earth. Perfection of grace is not attained in this life ( Philippians 3:12 , 13), yet additions to our present attainments in grace are to be diligently sought ( 2 Peter 1:5-7). No matter what spiritual progress has, by grace, been made, we are never to rest satisfied with it: we still need to be further strengthened for duties and fortified for trials. A child grows until it becomes fit for all manly actions, yet further progress is attainable after the state of manhood is reached. So it is spiritually. God requires from us the mortification of every lust, and an universal and impartial obedience from us, and therefore we may perceive how perfectly suited is this prayer to our needs.

Next, we turn to consider the extensiveness of this petition: "Make you perfect in every good work." This comprehensive expression includes, as Gouge pointed out, all the fruits of holiness Godwards and of righteousness manwards. There is to be no reservation. God requires us to love Him with "all our hearts," that we be sanctified in our "whole spirit, and soul, and body," and that we "grow up into Christ in all things." Many will do some good, but are defective in other things—usually in those which are most necessary. They single out those duties which make the least demand upon them, which require the least denying of self. But we shall never enjoy sound peace of heart till we are conformed unto all the revealed will of God: "Then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect unto all Thy commandments" ( Psalm 119:6). Then pray daily to be Divinely fitted unto every good work, especially those which you will find the hardest and most exacting.

"To do His will." Here we have a Scriptural definition of what is a "good work:" it is the performing of God's preceptive will. There are many things done by professing Christians which, though admired by themselves and applauded by their fellows, are not regarded as "good works" by the One with whom we have to do; yea, "that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God" ( Luke 16:15). Of old the Jews added their own traditions to the Divine commandments, instituting fasts and feasts, so that the Lord asked "who hath required this at your hand?" ( Isaiah 1:12). We see the same principle at work today among the deluded Romanists, with their bodily austerities, idolatrous devotions, arduous pilgrimages, and impoverishing payments. Nor are many Protestants free from self-appointed deprivations and superstitious exercises. It is not the heeding of religious impulses, nor conforming to ecclesiastical customs, but doing the will of God which is required of us.

The rule of our duty is the revealed will of God. The "works" of man are his operations as a rational creature, and if his actions are conformed to God's Law, they are good; if they are not, they are evil. Therefore a man cannot be a good Christian without doing God's will. If it be God's will that he should refrain from such an act or practice, he dare not proceed to do it: see Jerermiah , Acts 4:19. On the other hand, if it be the revealed mind of God that he should do such a thing, he dare not omit it, no matter how it cross his inclination or fleshly interests: "To him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin" ( James 4:17). his not enough that we thoroughly understand the will of God: we must do it; and the more we do it, the better shall we understand: John 7:17.

"Make you perfect in every good work to do His will." Various things are clearly implied by these words. First, that we are imperfect or not qualified unto every good work. Yes, even after we have been regenerated, we are still unprepared to obey the Divine will. Notwithstanding the life, light and liberty we have received from God, yet we have not ability to do that which is well pleasing in His sight. This is indeed an humbling truth, yet truth it is: Christians themselves are unable to perform their duty. Though the love of God has been shed abroad in their hearts, a principle of holiness or new "nature" communicated to them, this of itself is not sufficient. Not only are they still very ignorant of God's will, but there is that in them which is ever opposed to it, inclining them in a contrary direction. Nor do the Scriptures hesitate to press this solemn fact upon us: rather is it frequently iterated for the humbling of ourselves before God.

Second, yet our spiritual impotency is not to be excused, nor are we to pity ourselves because of it; rather is it to be confessed to God with self condemnation. Third, none but God can fit us for the performing of His will, and it is both our duty and privilege to ask Him so to do. We need to diligently beg Him to strengthen us with might by His Spirit in the inner Prayer of Manasseh , to incline our hearts unto His testimonies and not to covetousness, to so bedew our souls that we will grow in grace; for the new nature in the believer is entirely dependent upon God. "Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God" ( 2 Corinthians 3:5). If we need Divine grace to think a good thought or conceive a good purpose, much more do we need His strength to resolve and perform that which is good. Therefore did the apostle pray for supplies of sanctifying grace to be given unto the Hebrews , to enable them to respond to the will of God in the duties of obedience required of them.

"Working in you that which is well-pleasing in His sight." This is both in elucidation and amplification of that which has just preceded, intimating how God makes us perfect or fits us unto every good work. The previous petition expressed the grand end for which the apostle prayed, namely, the progressive sanctification of his readers; here, he expresses the means by which this was to be accomplished in them. This is effected not by moral persuasion and instruction only, but by an actual and effectual inworking of Divine power. So perverse are we by nature, and so weak even as Christians, that it is not sufficient for our minds to be informed by means of an external revelation of God's will; in addition, He has to stimulate our affections and propel our wills if we are to perform those works which are acceptable to Him. "Without Me ye can no nothing."

"Working in you that which is well-pleasing in His sight." This respects the gracious operations of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of the regenerate. It presents a striking and blessed contrast between the unsaved and the saved. Of the former we read, "The prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience" ( Ephesians 2:2); whereas of the latter it is said "It is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure" ( Philippians 2:13). First, God puts within us the will or desire unto that which is good, and then He bestows His strength to actually perform. These are quite distinct, and the latter is never commensurate with the former in this life. The distinction was clearly drawn by the apostle when he said, "For to will is present with me, but how to perform that which is good I find not" ( Romans 7:18): yet even that "will" or desire had been wrought in him by Divine grace.

Only as these two truths are clearly recognized and honestly acknowledged by us—the Christian's spiritual powerlessness, and the efficiency of inwrought grace—will we rightly ascribe unto God the glory which is His due. To Him alone is due the honor for anything good which proceeds from us or is done by us: "By the grace of God I am what I am: and His grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me" ( 1 Corinthians 15:10). Not only do we owe to God the new nature which He has placed within us, but we are entirely dependent upon Him for the renewing of that new nature "day by day" ( 2 Corinthians 4:16). It is God who worketh in His people spiritual aspirations, holy desires, pious endeavors: "from Me is thy fruit found" ( Hosea 14:8). The more this be realized, the more will our proud hearts be truly humbled.

"Make you perfect in every good work to do His will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in His sight." By linking the two sentences together we are taught the most important lesson that there cannot be conformity to the will of God in the life, till there be conformity to Him in the heart. Herein we see the radical difference between human efforts at reformation and the Divine method. Man concentrates on that which is visible to the eyes of his fellows, namely, the external: "Woe unto you scribes and pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess" ( Matthew 23:25 and cf 27). Not so with Him who looketh on the heart: He worketh from within outward, fitting us for an obedient walk by effectually exciting the affections and empowering the will. It is thus that He continues and carries on to completion His work of grace in the elect.

Ere passing on to the next clause, let it be duly pointed out that while it is due alone to the gracious operations of the Spirit that we understand, love, believe, and do the things which God requires from us, it by no means follows that we are warranted to lie upon a bed of ease. No, far from it: we are responsible to use every means which God has appointed for our growth in grace and practical sanctification. Those who are fondest of quoting "for it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure," are usually the slowest to emphasize the preceding exhortation: "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" ( Philippians 2:12). We are commanded to give all diligence to add to our faith the other graces of the Spirit: 2 Peter 1:5-7. Then let us shake off our carnal security and lethargy: use the means and God will bless our endeavors ( 2 Timothy 3:16 , 17).

"That which is well-pleasing in His sight." First, let us endeavor to live day by day in the consciousness that all we do is done in the sight of God. Nothing can escape His view. He observes those who break His law, and those who keep it: "The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good" ( Proverbs 15:3). How it should curb and awe us to realize that God is an observer of every action: "in holiness and righteousness before Him" ( Luke 1:75). Second, let this be our great aim and end: to please God. That is sound piety, and nothing else is. Pleasing man is the religion of the hypocrites, but pleasing God is genuine spirituality. More than once does the apostle inculcate this as the right end: "Not as pleasing men, but God"; "that ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing" ( Colossians 1:10).

Third, let us see to it that all our works are so ordered as to be pleasing to God. In order to this our actions must square with the rule of His Word: only that which is agreeable to His will is acceptable in His sight. But more: it is not sufficient that the substance of what we do be right, but it must issue from a right principle, namely, love to God and faith in Christ; "For without faith it is impossible to please Him" ( Hebrews 11:6), yet it must be a faith that "worketh by love" ( Galatians 5:6)—not as forced, but as the expression of gratitude. Finally, as to the manner of this: our good works must be done with soberness and all seriousness: "serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear" ( Hebrews 12:28)—as becometh a menial in the presence of His Majesty. Remember that God actually takes delight in such works and those who do them: Hebrews 11:4—what an incentive unto such!


Verse 22

Divine Exhortations

( Hebrews 13:22)

Before taking up our present verse let us offer some further remarks upon the last portions of , which, through lack of space, we had to omit from the preceding article. The central thing which we sought to make clear in the previous paper was, that, while the believer received at his regeneration a new nature or principle of grace (often termed by the older writers "the habit of grace"), yet it is not sufficient of itself to empower us unto the actual execution of good works. At the beginning God did place in Adam everything necessary to equip him for the performing of all obedience; but not so with the Christian. God has not communicated to us such supplies of grace that we are self-sufficient. No indeed: rather has He placed in Christ all "fullness" of grace for us to draw on ( John 1:16), thereby making the members dependent on their Head. And, as we shall now see, it is from Christ that fresh supplies of grace are communicated to us.

"Working in you that which is well-pleasing in His sight through Jesus Christ" (verse 21). The "through Jesus Christ" has a double reference: to God's working in us, and to the acceptance of our works. First, in the light of verses 20 , 21as a whole, it is clear that what is there insisted upon Isaiah , that there are no communications of grace unto us from the God of peace except in and by Jesus Christ—by His mediation and intercession. This is a most important point to be clear upon if the Redeemer is to have that place in our thoughts and hearts which is His due: all the gracious operations of the Spirit within the redeemed, from their generation to their glorification, are conducted according to the mediation of the Savior and are in response to His intercession for us. Therein we may perceive the admirable wisdom of God, which has so contrived things that each Divine Person is exalted in the esteem of His people: the Father as the fountain of all grace, the One in whom it originates; the Song of Solomon , in His mediatorial office, as the channel through which all grace flows to us; the Spirit as the actual communicator and bestower of it.

Second, in our judgment, these words "through Jesus Christ" have also a more immediate connection with the clause "that which is well-pleasing in His sight," the reference being to those "good works" unto which the God of peace perfects or fits us. The best of our duties, wrought in us as they are by Divine grace, are not acceptable to God simply as they are ours, but only on account of the merits of Christ. The reason for this Isaiah , that Divine grace issues through an imperfect medium: sin is mixed with our best performances. The light may be bright and steady, yet it is dimmed by an unclean glass through which it may shine. We owe, then, to the Mediator not only the pardon of our sins and the sanctification of our persons, but the acceptance of our imperfect worship and service: "To offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ" ( 1 Peter 2:5) states that aspect of truth we are here emphasizing.

"To whom be glory for ever. Amen." Here the apostle, as was his custom, adds praise to petition. This is recorded for our instruction. The same principle is inculcated in that pattern prayer which the Lord Jesus has given to His disciples, for after its seven petitions He teaches us to conclude with, "for Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen" ( Matthew 6:13). here is some uncertainty as to whether the ascription of praise in our text be unto the God of peace, to whom the whole prayer is addressed, or whether it be unto Jesus Christ, the nearest antecedent. Personally, we believe that both are included and intended. Both are equally worthy, and both should receive equal recognition from us. In Philippians 4:20 praise is offered distinctively unto the Father; in Revelation 1:5 , 6 to the Mediator; while in Revelation 5:13 it is offered unto both.

"And I beseech you, brethren, suffer the word of exhortation: for I have written a letter unto you in few words" (verse 22). We will first give a brief exposition of this verse, and then make some remarks upon its central theme. The opening word is misleading in our Version, for it is contrastive and not connective, being rightly rendered "But" in the R.V. In the preceding verse, the apostle had spoken of God working in His people that which is well-pleasing in His sight: here he addresses their responsibility, and urges unto diligence on their part. Herein we may perceive again how perfectly Paul ever preserved the balance of truth: unto the Divine operations must be added our endeavors. Though it is God who worketh in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure, nevertheless, we are exhorted to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling: Philippians 2:12 , 13.

The "word of exhortation" refers, in our judgment, to the entire contents of this epistle. The Greek word for "exhortation" is quite a comprehensive one, including within its meaning and scope direction, admonition, incitation, and comfort. It is usually translated "consolation" or "exhortation," one as often as the other. Manifestly it was very appropriate for the apostle to thus summarize the whole of his epistle, for, from beginning to end, its contents are a most powerful and impressive incitation unto perseverance in the faith and profession of the Gospel, in the face of strong temptations to apostasy. "The word of exhortation is the truth and doctrine of the Gospel applied unto the edification of believers, whether by way of exhortation or consolation, the one of them including the other" (John Owen—and so all the best of the commentators). But let us observe the tactfulness and gentleness with which the apostle urged the Hebrews to attend unto the exhortations that had been addressed to them.

First, he said, "But I beseech you." This was "an affectionate request that they would take kindly what on his part was meant kindly" (J. Brown). Paul did not set himself on some lofty pedestal and command them—as he might well have done by virtue of his apostolic authority—but placing himself on their level, he tenderly urged them. "This word of exhortation as it comes out of the bright atmosphere of truth, so it comes out of the genial atmosphere of affection" (A. Saphir). Second, he added, "I beseech you, brethren," "denoting (1) his near relation unto them in nature and grace, (2) his love unto them, (3) his common interest with them in the case to hand—all suited to give an access unto his present exhortation" (John Owen); to which we may add, (4) it evidenced his commendable humility and lowliness of heart.

Third, he added "But I beseech you, brethren, suffer the word of exhortation." This of course implied there were things in this epistle which were opposed to their corruptions and prejudices. This also revealed once more the deep solicitude which the apostle had for the Hebrews. He had written to them some pointed warnings and some severe admonitions, and he was deeply concerned that they should not miss the benefit thereof, either through their negligence or because of their natural antipathy. "Probably he records (uses) the word of exhortation for this reason: though men are by nature anxious to learn, they yet prefer to hear something new, rather than to be reminded of things known and often heard before. Besides, as they indulge themselves in sloth, they can ill bear to be stirred and reproved" (John Calvin).

Here we may perceive again what a blessed example the apostle has left all ministers of the Word. The preacher must be careful to stir up his hearers to seek their own good: "Son of Prayer of Manasseh , I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the Word at My mouth, and give them warning from Me. When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die: and thou givest him not warning, nor speaketh to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood will I require at thine hand" ( Ezekiel 3:17 , 18). In nothing are our hearers (even the saints) more backward than to appreciate and respond to the word of exhortation. Yet exhortation was the apostle's keynote all through this Epistle. God has given His Word to us for practical ends, and the faith of God's elect is "the acknowledging of the truth which is alter godliness" ( Titus 1:1). The Holy Scriptures have been placed in our hands that we may be furnished unto all good works, instructed in every duty, fortified against every temptation. No doctrine is rightly understood unless it affects our walk. But in pressing unto a compliance with the Divine precepts let us seek grace that we may do it with the fidelity, Wisdom of Solomon , humility, and tenderness that the apostle evidenced and exemplified.

"For I have written a letter unto you in a few words." Strange to say, some have been puzzled by this clause, because most of Paul's epistles are much shorter than this one, and hence they have invented the wild theory that verse 22alludes only to this final chapter, which Sir Robert Anderson strangely designated "a kind of covering letter." But the apostle was not here referring absolutely to the length of his epistle, but to the proportion between its length and the momentousness and sublimity of the theme of which it treats. In comparison with the importance and comprehensiveness of the many subjects which he had touched upon, brevity had indeed marked his treatment throughout. Nothing more than a short compendium had been given of the new covenant, the office and work of Christ, the superiority of Christianity over Judaism, the life of faith, and the varied duties of the Christian.

The principal subject referred to in our present verse is the Divine exhortations, which is one of the greatest practical importance and value, yet alas, it is sadly neglected and generally ignored today. In Calvin's time men preferred "to hear something new, rather than to be reminded of things known and often heard before," but the present generation is woefully ignorant of those paths of righteousness which God has marked out in His Word, and so far from often heating of many of those duties that God requires us to perform, most pulpits are largely silent thereon, substituting themes and topics which are more agreeable to the flesh, studiously avoiding that which searches the conscience and calls for reformation. Now an "exhortation" is an urging to the performance of duty, an incitation unto obedience to the Divine precepts. In developing this theme, we feel that we cannot do better than follow the order set forth in Psalm 119.

We are there shown, first, the blessedness of those who respond to God's claims upon them: "Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the Law of the Lord. Blessed are they that keep His testimonies, that seek Him with the whole heart" (verses 1 , 2). The Psalmist began here because it is essential that we should have a right understanding of what true blessedness consists. All men desire to be happy: "There be many that say, Who will show us any good?" ( Psalm 4:6). This is the cry of the world, "Good, good:" it is the yearning of nature for contentment and satisfaction.

Alas, sin has so blinded our understandings that by nature we neither know where real blessedness is to be found nor how it is obtained. So thoroughly has Satan deceived men, they know not that happiness is the fruit of holiness, a conscience testifying to God's approbation. Consequently, all, until Divine grace intervenes, seek happiness in riches, honors and pleasures, and thus they flee from it while they are seeking it—they intend joy, but choose misery. "Thou has put gladness in my heart, more than in the time that their corn and their wine increased" ( Psalm 4:7)—yes, "their corn and their wine:" not only possessed by them, but chosen by them as their portion and felicity. But David found that by treading the highway of holiness, God had put a gladness in his heart to which the pleasures of the worldling could not for a moment compare.

The main difference in thought between the first two verses of Psalm 119 , wherein the secret of true happiness is revealed, is this: in the former the outward conduct of the man of God is described; in the latter, the inward principle which actuates him is seen, namely, whole-hearted seeking unto the Lord. As it is out of the heart there proceeds all the evils enumerated by Christ in Matthew 15:19 , so it is out of the heart there issues all the graces described in Galatians 5:22 , 23. It is for this reason we are bidden, "Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life" ( Proverbs 4:23). This is very solemn and searching, for while "man looketh on the outward appearance, the Lord looketh on the heart" ( 1 Samuel 16:7). Therefore there must be the exercise of faith and of love before our outward conduct can be pleasing unto God.

After affirming and describing the blessedness of those who walk in the Law of the Lord (verses 1-3), the Psalmist next reminds us that God has "commanded us to keep His precepts diligently" (verse 4). First, he sets before us a most attractive inducement to heed the Divine commands, and then we are reminded of God's righteous claims upon us. We are His creatures, His subjects, and as our Maker and Ruler He has absolute authority over us. God's will has been clearly revealed in His Word, and we are obligated to give our best attention and respect thereunto. God will not be put off with anything: He requires to be served with the utmost care and exactness. Thus, it is not left to our caprice as to whether or not we will walk in God's Law—an absolute necessity is imposed.

"O that my ways were directed to keep Thy statutes" (verse 5). Awed by a sense of the authority of God, conscious of the propriety of His commanding His creatures, and of the justice of His claims, the Psalmist now felt his own weakness and utter insufficiency, his deep need of Divine grace, to enable him to fulfill his duty. This is one of the marks of a regenerate soul: first he is enlightened, and then he is convicted. Knowledge of the path of duty is communicated to him, and then consciousness is awakened of his inability to walk therein. Holiness begins with holy desires and aspirations: O that I were walking in the Law of the Lord, and keeping His precepts diligently. He realized that in the past, he had followed his own ways and paid little or no attention unto God's authority. But now he longs for this to be radically altered.

This panting after a conformity to the Divine will is the breathing of the new nature, which is received at regeneration. A change of heart is ever evidenced by new desires and new delights. "For they that are after the flesh, do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit, the things of the Spirit" ( Romans 8:5). When the love of God is shed abroad in the heart, our love goes out to God, and as His love is a regard for our good, so our love for Him is a regard for His glory. Love to God is testified by a longing to be subject to Him: "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not grievous" ( 1 John 5:3). The more clearly the believer discerns the Wisdom of Solomon , goodness, purity, and holiness of the Divine precepts, the more earnestly does he long to obey them: "O that my ways were directed to keep Thy statutes"—this is the longing of the heart for directing grace.

Passing over the intervening verses, we observe, next, the Psalmist's prayer for enabling grace: "Blessed art Thou O Lord: teach me Thy statutes" (verse 12). One of the duties of God's people in connection with the Divine precepts is to turn them into prayer. This is in accord with the new covenant, where precepts and promises go hand in hand. What God requires from us, we may ask of Him. "Why doth God require what we cannot perform by our own strength? He doth it (1) to keep up His fight; (2) to convince us of our impotency, and that upon a trial: without His grace we cannot do His work; (3) that the creature may express his readiness to obey; (4) to bring us to lie at His feet for grace" (T. Manton).

Prayer is the expression of our desires, and if we truly long to obey God, then we shall earnestly supplicate Him for enabling grace. The first thing sought is that God would teach us His statutes, which has reference to both the outward means and the inward grace. The letter of the Word and the preaching thereof must not be despised, for it is an ordinance which is appointed by God; yet it is only as the Divine blessing attends the same that we are truly profited. When the Lord Jesus taught His disciples we are told, that He first opened to them the Scriptures, and then He opened their understandings ( Luke 24:32 , 35). The inward teaching of the Spirit consists in enlightening the understanding, inflaming the affections, and moving the will, for Divine teaching is ever accompanied by drawing ( John 6:44 , 45).

The great need for such inward teaching by the Spirit is our obstinacy and prejudice. To live for eternity instead of for time, to walk by faith and not by sight, to deny self and take up the cross dally, seems utter foolishness to the natural man. To yield ourselves wholly to God, is to row against the raging stream of our lusts. The old nature has a long start on the new, so that we are confirmed in evil habits, and therefore to act contrary to our natural bent and bias is likened unto cutting off right hands and plucking out right eyes. Moreover, every step we take, yea, attempt to take, along the highway of holiness, is hotly opposed by Satan. Thus, the need is real, urgent, imperative, that we should be Divinely empowered to discharge our duties. None but God Himself can work in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure.

Next we find the Psalmist declaring, "I will meditate in Thy precepts, and have respect unto Thy ways" (verse 15). Prayer is vain unless it be accompanied by faithful endeavor on our part. Here is David's hearty resolution and purpose to discharge his responsibility. He knew that he would never have that respect for God's ways of holiness which is their due, unless he made His precepts the subject of his constant thoughts. "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he." If our minds were constantly engaged with sacred things, the savor thereof would be apparent in our conversation. But the fear of God and a delight for His Word must first be established in our hearts, for our thoughts follow our affections—that which the heart has no relish for, the mind finds irksome to dwell upon. Difficulties in holy duties lie not in the duties themselves, but in the backwardness of our affections.

"I will meditate in Thy precepts and have respect unto Thy ways" (verse 15). The order is deeply suggestive: meditation precedes obedient conduct. Meditation is to be far more than a pious reverie: it is an appointed means to God-pleasing conduct: "Thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest abserve to do according to all that is written" ( Joshua 1:8). Meditation is not for the purpose of storing the mind with curious notions and subtle ideas, but is to be turned to practical use. Observe well, dear readers, it is not "I will meditate in Thy promises" (though that too has its proper place), but "in Thy precepts." And why is it so essential that we should meditate therein? That they may be fixed more permanently in the memory, that they may make a deeper impression on the heart, and that we should the better discern their manifold application unto the varied duties of our lives.

"I will meditate in Thy precepts." This was no passing fancy with David, like the forming of a New Year's resolution that is never carried into execution. He repeats his determination "I will meditate in Thy statutes" (verse 48), and again he declares, "I will meditate in Thy precepts" (verse 78). It is often said that, in this strenuous and bustling age, meditation is a lost art. True, and is not this one of the chief reasons why obedience to God's commands is a lost practice? God complained of old, "My people do not consider" ( Isaiah 1:3): what goes in at one ear, goes out at the other. "When anyone heareth the Word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the Wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart" ( Matthew 13:19): and how can the Word be understood unless it be prayerfully pondered, turned over and over in the mind. "Let these sayings sink down into your ears" ( Luke 9:44)—by means of serious reflection and steady contemplation thereof.

"Make me to go in the path of Thy commandments, for therein do I delight" (verse 35). Here we find David praying for compelling grace. Though he was a regenerate man and delighted in the Divine precepts, he was painfully conscious of the fact that there was still much in him which pulled the other way. The flesh lusted against the spirit, so that he could not do the things which he would. True, Divine grace has placed within the born-again soul an inclination and tendency toward that which is good, yet fresh supplies of grace are needed daily before he has strength to perform that which is good. And for this grace God would be sought unto. Why so? That we may learn that power belongeth unto Him alone, and that we may be kept lowly in our own esteem. Were God to send sufficient rain in a day to suffice for a year, no notice would be taken of His acts of providence; and were He to grant us sufficient grace at the new birth to suffice the rest of our lives, we would quickly become prayerless.

It is a very humbling thing to be brought to realize that we must be "made to go" in the path of God's commandments, yet sooner or later each believer experiences the truth of it. Godly desires and holy resolutions are not sufficient to produce actual obedience: God has to work in us to do, as well as to "will" of His good pleasure. Peter's resolution was strong when he declared that he would not deny Christ, though all others should do so; yet in the hour of testing he discovered that he was as weak as water. We are told of Hezekiah that "God left him, to try him, that he might know all that was in his heart" ( 2 Chronicles 32:31); and at times He does this with all His people, that they may discover that without Him they can do nothing. When this discovery is made, the soul feels the suitability of this prayer, "Make me to go in the path of Thy commandments."

"Incline my heart unto Thy testimonies, and not to covetousness" (verse 36). In these words there is a confession implied, as well as a supplication expressed. There is an acknowledgment that the natural bent of the heart is away from God unto worldly things. That for which he prayed was that the bias of his heart should be turned unto God and His precepts. For the heart to be "inclined" unto God's Word means, for the affections to be so inflamed unto holiness that the will is carried after them. Just as the power of sin lies in the love it has for the objects attracting us, so our aptness for godly duties lies in the love we have for them. When God says "I will cause you to walk in My statutes" ( Ezekiel 36:27), it means that He will so enlighten the understanding and kindle the affections that the will is inclined thereto.

But let it be said again that, diligent effort on our part must be added to praying, for God will not heed the petitions of the slothful and careless. Hence we must carefully note that not only did David beg God to "Incline my heart unto Thy testimonies," but he also declared "I have inclined mine heart to perform Thy statutes always" (verse 112). It is our bounden duty to incline our hearts unto God's Law, yet it is only by God's enablement we can do so. Nevertheless, God deals not with us as stocks and stones, but as rational agents. He sets before us motives and inducements which it is our responsibility to respond unto. He appoints means, which it is our duty to use. He bestows blessings, which it is our obligation to improve—trading with the pound He has given us. And this David had done. True, it was all of grace, as he had been the first to acknowledge: nevertheless the fact remained he had cooperated with grace: working out what God had worked in; and all is vain till that be done.

Our space is exhausted. Does some captious critic ask, What has all the above to do with Hebrews 12:22? We answer, much every way. How are we to "suffer the Word of Exhortation"? Psalm 119 supplies a detailed answer! By frequently reminding ourselves that compliance therewith is the way of true blessedness; by constantly calling to mind the Divine authority with which it is invested; by owning and bewailing our perverse disinclination thereto; by earnest prayer for enabling grace; by meditation daily thereon; by begging God to make us go in the path of His commandments; by diligent improvement of the grace given.


Verse 23

Spiritual Freedom

( Hebrews 13:23)

Before turning to our present verse we must complete our observations on the one which occupied our attention in the last article, for the practical importance and value of it cannot be over-estimated or over-emphasized. "Suffer the Word of Exhortation." In its local meaning to the Hebrews this expression comprehended the entire contents of the Epistle which Paul had addressed to them, for, from beginning to end, it was in the nature of an earnest entreaty that they would relinquish the now effete system of Judaism, and remain steadfast in the profession of Christianity and the performance of Gospel duties, This was, then, a final word from the apostle that his readers would duly take to heart the message he had delivered to them, that no matter how radically it conflicted with their traditions, sentiments, and prejudices, their eternal welfare depended upon receiving what was worthy of all acceptation. It was an affectionate appeal to them that they would not, through natural disinclination, miss and lose the inestimable value of what he had written.

But this expression "the Word of Exhortation" has a still wider meaning and application for us. It may legitimately be taken for the entire Word of God, for what are the Scriptures—considered from one essential viewpoint—but a continuous exhortation? Just as in Romans 9:9 we read of "the Word of Promise" and in 2Peter 1:19 of the more sure "Word of Prophecy," so here the Scriptures are designated "the Word of Exhortation"—the emphasis being changed in each case. And just as responding to the Word of Exhortation meant to the Hebrews that they must first relinquish something, and then adhere to another thing in its place; so it is with us. The Hebrews were called upon to forsake the Christ-dishonoring camp of Judaism and act by faith in the revelation which God had made in His Son; whereas we are called upon to forsake the world and its vanities, to forsake the pleasures of sin and the indulging of our fleshly lusts, and to tread that highway of holiness which alone conducteth unto Everlasting Life. No matter how much the Divine exhortations cross our wills and oppose our corruptions, obedience thereto is absolutely necessary if we are to escape the wrath to come.

In our last article we sought to show how we are to "suffer the Word of Exhortation," how we are to respond thereto, by making use of what is found in Psalm 119 on this subject, for it is there, more fully than anywhere else in Scriptures, we are taught how the man of God conducts himself with reference to the Divine Law. We briefly touched upon seven things, and pointed out that we are to "suffer" or give the Word of Exhortation that place in our hearts and lives to which it is entitled, by frequently reminding ourselves that obedience thereto is the way of true blessedness ( Psalm 119:1-3), by constantly calling to mind the Divine authority with which it is invested (verse 4), by earnestly praying for enabling grace (verses l 2, 27), by frequently meditating therein (verses 15 , 48 , 78), by begging God to make us go in the path of His commandments (verse 35), by praying Him to incline our hearts thereto (verse 36), by our own diligent improvement of the grace which God has already given to us (verse 112): let us now add a few more words upon this last point.

"I have inclined mine heart to perform Thy statutes always, even unto the end" (verse 112). Was this creature boasting? Most certaintly not, any more than Paul was guilty of the same when he declared "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith." It is not unusual for Scripture to ascribe to us what God works in us, and that because of our subservient endeavors to Divine grace, as we pursue the work of God. The soul responds to the impressions which the Spirit makes upon it. God gives us breath, yet we breathe. God supplies food, yet we have to prepare and eat it. God sets motives before us, but we have to respond thereto. God imparts grace, but we must improve it. This is the way to get more: Luke 8:18. It is our duty to heed that injunction "now set your heart and your soul to seek the Lord your God" ( 1 Chronicles 22:19); and as Paul "If that I may apprehend (lay hold of) that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus" ( Philippians 3:12).

Moreover, there are certain aids and helps thereto, which it is our privilege to employ. For example the Psalmist said, "I am a companion of all them that fear Thee, and of them that keep Thy precepts" ( Psalm 119:63). We are largely affected and influenced by the company we keep: "Make no friendship with an angry man; and with a furious man thou shalt not go" ( Proverbs 22:24). We must not expect to love and obey God's precepts if we have fellowship with those who despise them. But communion with godly souls will be a stimulus to our own piety. "He that walketh with wise men shall be wise" ( Proverbs 13:20). Here too our responsibility is exercised, for we are free to choose our companions. So far as Providence permits, it is our duty to cultivate acquaintance with those who make conscience of obeying God's commands. Pious conversation with them will kindle the spark of grace in our own hearts: "Ointment and perfume rejoice the heart: so doth the sweetness of a man's friend by hearty counsel" ( Proverbs 27:9).

There is one other thing we would notice in Psalm 119 as it bears upon the subject of obedience to God's commands, and that Isaiah , profiting from Divine chastenings, begging God to sanctify to us the various trials through which we pass. "Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept Thy Word" (verse 67). It is in seasons of temporal prosperity that we are most apt to decline spiritually, and generally we have to pass through deep waters of trouble before we are restored—the snapping dog of adversity is employed to recover the strayed sheep. Afflictions are blessings in disguise when they cool our lusts, wean us from the world, make us realize our weakness, and cast us back immediately upon God. So declared the Psalmist: "It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn Thy statutes" (verse 71). Then "despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of Him" ( Hebrews 12:5).

Ere turning from this subject, let us remind the reader that the Greek word rendered "exhortation" in Hebrews 13:22 is translated "consolation" in Hebrews 6:18 , for the term not only signifies to entreat and incite, but it also means to relieve and refresh. It may seem strange to some that the same word should have such different forces as exhortation and consolation, yet these two things have a much closer affinity than is generally realized, and this twofold meaning is designed by the Spirit to inculcate an important practical lesson. To despise the Word of Exhortation is to forsake our own comforts, as many a backslidden Christian can testify. Obedience to the Divine precepts carries its own reward now: peace of conscience, tranquility of mind, contentment of heart, and assurance of God's approbation. Divine consolation is secured by heeding the Word of Exhortation!

"Know ye that our brother Timothy is set at liberty; with whom, if he come shortly, I will see you" (verse 23). Following our usual custom we will first raise the question, What is the connection between this verse and the context? At first glance there does not appear to be any relation between them, yet further examination seems to indicate otherwise. Some of our readers may deem us fanciful, but it appears to the writer that this historical allusion to the "liberty" of Timothy Supplies an illustrative encouragement for us to respond to the call contained in the preceding verse. Let us set it forth thus: those who refuse to heed the Word of Exhortation, and instead give free play to their own corruptions, are in the worst servitude of all—the bondage of sin and Satan; but those who yield submission to the commands and precepts of God enter into true spiritual freedom.

It is one of the great delusions of the natural man that he is free only so long as he may please himself, supposing that to be placed under the authority of another is to curtail his liberty and bring him into bondage. But that is a putting of darkness for light and light for darkness. For just so far as the language of our hearts be "let us break Their bands asunder, and cast away Their cords from us" ( Psalm 2:3) are we tyrannized over by our lusts. In proportion as we follow the inclinations and devices of our evil hearts are we in servitude to sin and Satan. Lawlessness is not liberty, but libertinism, which is the worst bondage of all: "While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the slaves of corruption, for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage" ( 2 Peter 2:19).

Alas, what widespread ignorance and delusion abounds on this subject today. Carnal liberty is but moral thraldom. To make this the more evident let it be pointed out, first, that which most infringes upon a man's real liberty is that which most hinders and disables him to prosecute his true happiness. When the things of sense crowd Out the things of the spirit, when the concerns of time oust the interests of eternity, when Satan is given that place in our lives which belongs only to God, then we are forsaking our own mercies and come under the most cruel task-masters. Second, that which disorders the soul and puts reason out of dominion, is certain spiritual bondage. When the base prevail over the honorable, it is a sign that a country is enthralled: and when our fleshly lusts, rather than our understanding and conscience, prevail over the will, it is sure proof that we are in Spiritual bondage.

Again; consider the great power and tyranny of sin. Sin, in various forms and ways, has such complete dominion over the unconverted that it robs them of all control over themselves and their actions: they are "serving divers lusts and pleasures" ( Titus 3:3). This is most evident in the case of the confirmed drunkard and the drug addict—what fetters they have forged for themselves, and how helpless they are to break from them! Yet, the bondage of pleasure and worldly pursuits is just as real, if not so apparent. Sin, even in its most refined forms, obtains such a mastery over its victims that they have no command of their affections and still less of their wills, so that they are quite unable to forsake what they themselves believe to be vanity or follow that which they know to be good. "Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil" ( Jeremiah 13:23). Therefore do many of them say, "There is no hope: but we will walk after our own devices, and we will everyone do the imagination of his evil heart" ( Jeremiah 18:12).

Now on the contrary, true liberty is to be found in the ways of God, for spiritual freedom is a freedom from sin and not to sin, a freedom to serve God and not self, a freedom to take upon us the easy yoke of Christ and not the despising of it. Genuine liberty is not a liberty to do what we please, but to do what we ought. "Where the Spirit of the Lord Isaiah , there is liberty" ( 2 Corinthians 3:17); contrariwise, where Satan rules there is captivity ( 2 Timothy 2:26). Said the Psalmist, "And I will walk at liberty: for I seek Thy precepts" (119:45). Yes, just so far as we walk according to the Divine precepts, are we freed from the fetters of our corruptions. It is that miracle of grace which brings the heart to love the Divine statutes, that sets the heart at rest. "The way of holiness is not a track for slaves, but the King's highway for freemen, who are joyfully journeying from the Egypt of bondage to the Canaan of rest" (Spurgeon).

First, the way of God's precepts is in itself liberty, and therefore God's Law is called "the perfect Law of liberty" ( James 1:25). How grievously are they mistaken, then, who accuse us of bringing souls into bondage when we insist that the Law is the believer's Rule of Life—-the bondage of the Law from which Divine grace delivers, is from the Law as a covenant of works, and therefore from its condemnation and curse; and not from the preceptive authority of the Law. Yet ever since we drank that poison, "ye shall be as gods" ( Genesis 3:5), man affecteth dominion over himself and would be lord of his own actions. But Scripture makes it clear that the most dreadful judgment which God inflicts upon the wicked in this world is when He withdraws His restraints and gives them over to do as they please: Psalm 81:12 , Romans 1:26-29.

Real liberty is found in the ways of God because it is there we are directed to attain unto true felicity. The way of sin seems broad and easy to the flesh, yet is it strait and painful to the spirit—"the way of trangressors is hard." Contrariwise, the way of holiness seems strait and narrow to the flesh, yet, because it is life and peace, it is broad and easy to the spirit—all of Wisdom's ways are "ways of pleasantness." He liveth the freest life who liveth under the bonds of duty, who maketh conscience of pleasing God, for it is the Truth which makes us free ( John 8:32). The fuller be our obedience, the more completely emancipated are we from the fetters of moral slavery. The only unshackled ones are those who walk with God.

Second, liberty is given to walk in God's ways. At regeneration the soul, hitherto in prison, is set free by Christ ( Luke 4:18 , John 8:36). "For the Law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death" ( Romans 8:2). Conversion is a change of masters: "But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness" ( Romans 6:17 , 18). Redemption is a being delivered from the cruel task-masters of Egypt and coming under the Lordship of Christ. In loving, fearing, serving, and praising God the highest faculties of the soul are exercised in their noblest and most regular way of operation. The soul is lifted above the things of time and sense, elevated to occupation with heavenly and eternal things. (For some things in the last few paragraphs we are indebted to Manton's sermon on Psalm 119:45.)

We trust that the reader is now able to perceive the connection between the deeper spiritual significance of Hebrews 13:23 and the verse which immediately precedes it. The historical allusion to the physical release of Timothy from his imprisonment, coming immediately after the call for us to heed the Word of Exhortation, is to be regarded as an illustration of the spiritual freedom which attends our compliance with that Divine injunction. Just in proportion as we yield subjection to the Divine precept, do we enter into and enjoy real freedom of soul. If this should seem too fanciful to some of our more prosaic readers, perhaps they will be willing that others should be permitted to exercise their own judgment thereon.

"Know ye that our brother Timothy is set at liberty." "Who this Timothy was, what was his relation unto Paul, how he loved him, how he employed him and honored him, joining him with himself in the salutation prefixed unto some of his epistles, with what care and diligence he wrote unto him with reverence unto his office of an evangelist, is known out of his writings. This Timothy was his perpetual companion in all his travels, labors and sufferings, serving him as a son serveth his father, unless when he designed and sent him unto any special work for the Church. And being with him in Judea, he was well known unto the Hebrews also, as was his worth and usefulness" (John Owen).

Timothy means "precious to God." His father was a Greek; his mother a Jewess. Nothing is known of the former. That his mother was a true believer we learn from 2Timothy , where the apostle makes mention of the unfeigned faith which "dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice." The expression "unfeigned faith" testifies to the reality and genuineness of it, in contradistinction from the empty profession of others who, without just cause, posed as believers. From the above reference many have concluded that Timothy, in his early days, received a godly training. This is confirmed by "From a child thou hast known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus" ( 2 Timothy 3:15). Apparently the family resided at Lystra.

The first visit of the apostle Paul to Lystra is recorded in Acts 14. There he and Barnabas "preached the Gospel" (verse 7). There too God wrought a mighty miracle through Paul, by healing an impotent man who had never walked, being a cripple from his mother's womb (verse 10). A deep impression was made upon the heathen inhabitants, who could scarce be restrained from doing homage to the apostles as gods. But shortly after, Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and persuaded the people—so fickle is human nature—to stone Paul. The writer believes that he was then actually stoned to death and that God restored him to life. Possibly the following passage refers to that incident: "We would not, brethren have you ignorant of our troubles which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life: But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead: who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in Whom we trust that He will yet deliver" ( 2 Corinthians 1:8-10).

It was during this first visit of Paul to Lystra that young Timothy was converted. This seems clear from the fact that in 1Timothy he refers to him as "my own son in the faith"; while in 2Timothy 3:10 , 11Paul reminds him now that he fully knew the persecutions and afflictions which befell his spiritual father "at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra." The expression "my own son in the faith" signifies that Paul had, ministerially, begotten him through the Gospel ( 1 Corinthians 4:17). The Lystrians had dragged the body of Paul outside the city ( Acts 14:19), but he rose up and returned into it. Next day he departed to Derbe, but after preaching the Gospel there, he returned to Lystra, "confirming the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God" (verse 22).

What has been pointed out above explains the fact that when Paul revisited Lystra some three or four years later, Timothy is already spoken of as a "disciple" ( Acts 16:1). The second verse intimates how he had acquitted himself during the apostle's absence. During that time he had established a reputation for godliness, not only in Lystra, but in Iconium. He had become well known to the churches at both dries, and was "well reported of." Probably it was this good report which attracted Paul, who then stood in need of a fellow-helper—Barnabas and Mark having in the interval deserted him ( Acts 15:39). The commendation of Timothy's "brethren" inclined Paul to select him for a wider work. But there was, however, one hindrance in the way: Timothy was a Gentile, and the Jewish Christians were not yet, generally, prepared to receive an uncircumcised leader. To place him in office as a teacher might arouse prejudice, so Paul, in deference to their scruples, circumcised the young disciple.

Nothing is told us of what it must have cost Eunice to give up such a son: but God took notice ( Psalm 56:8). From now on Timothy figured prominently in the history of Paul, becoming his companion and fellow-laborer. Two of his epistles were addressed to him, and in six others he is associated with him in the superscription: compare 2Corinthians 1:1. Timothy was with the apostle during his second great missionary tour, accompanied him to Jerusalem, and was with him in his first imprisonment. In 1Corinthians 4:17 we find Paul affirming that Timothy was "faithful in the Lord." Philippians 2:19-22presents to us a lovely picture of the gracious power of the Spirit triumphing over the affections of the flesh, and the love of Christ constraining unto unselfishness. The apostle was prisoner in Rome, and Timothy, who was there, was very dear unto him; yet was he willing to part with his beloved companion, even in his sorrow and solitariness, He was solicitous for the welfare of the Philippian saints, and having none other he could send, authorized Timothy to visit them.

In referring to Timothy as being "like minded" with himself, Paul gives us an insight into his ability. Not only was Timothy his "own son in the faith" but he speaks of him "as a son with the father, he hath served with me in the Gospel" ( Philippians 2:22). Young believers generally become like those with whom they associate most intimately. Blessed is it when we see them growing up to follow the example of godly leaders—"imitators of us and of the Lord" ( 1 Thessalonians 1:6). How solemnly important it Isaiah , then, that the leaders should live so that the younger Christians may not be made to stumble.

From the personal exhortations addressed by Paul to Timothy (in the epistles bearing his name), it seems clear that he was of a sensitive, shrinking, and timid nature. The word in 2Timothy (cf 1Timothy 4:12 , 14 , 16) seems to imply that he was almost ready to give up in despair. The "God hath not given us the spirit of fear"—really "cowardice" ( 2 Timothy 1:7) and the "be not ashamed" (verse 8) intimate that there was need for the exhortation "fight the good fight of faith" ( 1 Timothy 6:12) and "endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ" ( 2 Timothy 2:3 , and cf 4:5). That he was a man of frail constitution is evident from 1Timothy 5:23. Yet to Paul he was "his dearly beloved son" ( 2 Timothy 1:2). Timothy's "tears" ( 2 Timothy 1:4) over Paul's imprisonment show that he was a man of feeling.

"Know ye that our brother Timothy is set at liberty: with whom, if he come shortly, I will see you" ( Hebrews 13:23). This supplies one more incidental confirmation that Paul was the writer of the Hebrews' epistle, for it is clear from this verse that Timothy was the one who accompanied him on his missionary journeys—there is no hint elsewhere that Timothy was the fellow-worker of any one else but Paul. The actual incarceration of Timothy is not recorded in the Acts or elsewhere, but it is clear from this verse that he had been restrained, but that he was now free. The imprisonment of faithful ministers is an honor to them, yet is their release an occasion of rejoicing to the saints; and therefore the apostle acquaints the Hebrews of this good news, for he knew how highly they esteemed Timothy. He had not yet returned to Paul himself—apparently having been imprisoned at some other place than Rome, but if God directed him thither, he purposed that they should both again visit the churches in Judea. Whether this hope was realized, we know not.


Verse 24-25

Conclusion

( Hebrews 13:24 , 25)

Everything down here comes, sooner or later, to its end. Terrible prospect for the wicked, for there awaits them naught but the blackness of darkness forever. Blessed outlook for the righteous, for then they are done with sin and suffering forever, and only everlasting glory and bliss Stretches before them. How would it be with you, my reader, if the hand of time were now writing the final lines of your earthly history? Did the apostle experience a pang of regret as he arrived at the parting salutation? did his readers? We cannot be sure, but this writer certainly feels sorry that the dosing verses are now reached; and we are assured that not a few of those who have followed us throughout this series will feel much the same. For rather more than ten years we have journeyed together through this epistle, and now we have come to the Conclusion.

It is very doubtful if the writer will ever again attempt a task of such dimensions. Be that as it may, he certainly will never be engaged with a more momentous and glorious subject. There is no book in the N.T. of greater importance, and few of equal. First, it furnishes us a sure guide to the interpretation of the O.T, the Holy Spirit moving the apostle to here open up its principal types. Second, it supplies us with a vivid description and explanation of the Mediator's office and work, demonstrating the worthlessness and needlessness of all other intermediaries between the soul and God. Third, it therefore places in our hands the most conclusive exposure of the errors and fallacies of the Papacy. Fourth, it makes clear to us why Judaism has passed away, and how it can never again be restored.

The deep importance of this epistle is intimated by a feature which is peculiar to it, namely, the absence of the writer's name. But let it be noted that he did not conceal himself, for in Hebrews 13:18-24 , especially, Paul made it quite clear to the Hebrews who was the penman of this epistle: he plainly declared himself and his circumstances as one who was well known to them. The true reason why he did not prefix his name to this epistle, as to his others, was this: in all his other epistles he dealt with the churches by virtue of his apostolic authority and the revelation of the Gospel which he had personally received from Christ; but in dealing with the Hebrews , he laid his foundation in the authority of the Holy Scriptures, which they acknowledged, and resolved all his arguments and exhortations thereunto.

They who regard the body of this epistle as concerned merely with the refutation of those arguments brought against the Gospel by the ancient Jews, do greatly err. That which the apostle here took up is of vital moment for each generation. Human nature does not change, and the objections brought against the Truth by its enemies are, in substance, the same in every age. As the best means of getting rid of darkness is to let in the light, So the most effectual antidote for the poison of Satan is the pure milk of the Word. Only as we are established in the Truth are we fortified against the sophistries of error. In this epistle the apostle deals with the fundamental principles of Christianity, and no effort should be spared to arrive at a sound understanding of them. The foundations of the Faith are ever being attacked, and the ministers of Christ can perform no better service than to establish their people in the grand verities of the Faith.

The chief design of the Holy Spirit in this epistle is to set forth the great difference between the administration of the Everlasting Covenant before Christ came and since His coming. The following contrasts may be observed. First, the difference between the instruments God used: the "prophets"—His own Son: Hebrews 1:1 , 2. Second, the difference between priesthood and Priesthood: Hebrews 7:11-17. Third, the difference between surety and Surety: Hebrews 7:21 , 22. Fourth, the difference between the law and the "Oath:" Hebrews 7:28. Fifth, the difference between mediator and Mediator: Hebrews 8:6; 9:15. Sixth, between promises and Promises: Hebrews 8:6. Seventh, between blood and Blood: Hebrews 9:12-14. Eighth, between sacrifices and the Sacrifice: Hebrews 9:26. Ninth, between sprinkling and Sprinkling: Hebrews 9:13 , 14. Tenth, between tabernacle and Tabernacle: Hebrews 9:8 , 24. Eleventh, between the "shadow" and the Substance: Hebrews 10:1 and cf. Colossians 2:17. Twelfth, between "country" and Country: Hebrews 11:9 , 16. In all these contrasts the difference is between the Old and N.T. administrations of the Everlasting Covenant.

The outstanding contrast between the Old and N.T. regimes is that the one was but evanescent, whereas the other is abiding. Judaism was but preparatory, a temporary economy; whereas Christianity is permanent, ushering in an everlasting order of things. This is intimated in the opening sentence of the epistle: "God hath in these last days spoken unto us in His Son:" finality has now been reached!—there is no other dispensation to follow this: cf 1Corinthians , 1 Peter 4:7 , 1 John 2:19. In keeping with this we may note how frequently the emphasis is laid upon the abidingness and finality of what is here treated of. We read of "He became the Author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey Him" ( Hebrews 5:9), of "eternal judgment" ( Hebrews 6:2), that "He is able also to save them for evermore that come unto God by Him" ( Hebrews 7:25), of "eternal redemption" ( Hebrews 9:12), of "the eternal Spirit" ( Hebrews 9:14), of an "eternal inheritance" ( Hebrews 9:15), of "the everlasting covenant" ( Hebrews 13:20).

"Salute all them that have the rule over you, and all the saints. They of Italy salute you" (verse 24). It was the custom of the apostle to close his epistle with a warm greeting: not that this was merely a courtesy or pleasantry, for in those days the love of Christians was strong and fervent, both unto the Lord Himself and to His redeemed: "But as touching brotherly love ye need not that I write unto you: for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another" ( 1 Thessalonians 4:9). How radically different things were then from what they now are! Yet only so in degree, and not in essence, for wherever the love of God is shed abroad in the heart, the affections of that soul will necessarily flow unto all His people. "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren" ( 1 John 3:14), which is as true today as it was in the first century.

Salute all that have the rule over you." This evinced the apostle's good will unto the ministers and officers of the churches in Judea, as well as according honor to whom honor is due. Mutual amity between the servants of Christ is to be sedulously sought and lovingly maintained. The large-heartedness of the apostle in this important particular Shines forth again and again in the N.T. Calvin suggested that the reason why this salutation was sent more particularly unto the rulers of the churches was "as a mark of honor, that he might conciliate them, and gently lead them to assent to his doctrine"—which was so radically opposed to their earlier training. The "rulers" referred to in this verse are, of course, the same as those mentioned in verses 7 , 17.

"And all the saints." One lesson here inculated is that the servants of Christ should be absolutely impartial, manifesting equal respect unto the highest and lowest of God's dear people. This clause also condemns that detestable spirit of eclecticism, fostered so much by Rome. The Gospel has no secrets reserved for the initiated only, but the whole of it is the common property of all believers. "This epistle, containing strong meat for the perfect, is addressed to the whole congregation. If any part of Scripture was to be kept from the common people, we might fancy it would be this epistle. The writings of the apostles, as well as the prophets, were read in the public assembly; how much more ought it now to be left to every one to read them according to his need" (Bengel).

Believers are here designated "saints" or separated ones, which is their most common appellation in the N.T. They are so in a fourfold respect. First, by the Father's sovereign choice, whereby before the foundation of the world, He singled them out from the mass of their fellows, to be the objects of His special favor. Second, by the Son's redemption, whereby He purchased "a peculiar people" unto Himself, thereby distinguishing between the sheep and the goats. Third, by the Spirit's regeneration, whereby He quickens them unto newness of life, thus making them to differ from those who are left in their natural state—dead in trespasses and sins. Fourth, by their own consecration, whereby they surrender themselves unto the Lord, and dedicate themselves to His service. Their saintship is evidenced by their lives: devoted to the love, fear, and will of God. Such are the only proper members of a local church, and such are the only true members of the Church of God.

"They of Italy salute you." They did so through the apostle unto the entire body of the Hebrews: knowing of his intention of sending a letter to them, they desired to be remembered to them. "They of Italy" if not all of them Gentiles, certainly included many among their number. A most significant detail was this. In the previous verse Paul had referred to sending "Timothy" unto them, and his father was a Gentile! But still more striking was this word: it was more than a hint that the "middle wall of partition" was already broken down. Certainly "Italy" was "outside the Camp" of Judaism: Jerusalem was no longer the center of God's earthly witness!

"They of Italy salute you." This is very blessed, showing the victory of the spirit over the flesh. "How does Christianity melt down prejudices! Romans and Jews, Italians and Hebrews , were accustomed to regard each other with contempt and hatred. But in Christ Jesus there is neither Romans nor Jews, neither Italians nor Hebrews: all are one in Him. Christians of different countries should take all proper opportunities of testifying their mutual regards to each other. It is calculated to strengthen and console, and to knit them closer and closer in harmony. Proper expressions of love increase love on both sides" (John Brown).

"Grace be with you all. Amen" (verse 25). The epistle closes with the sign-manual of Paul himself. He commonly employed an amanuensis ( Romans 16:22), but this sentence was written by his own hand. This particular apostolic benediction was his own distinctive token. "The salutation of Paul with mine own hand, which is the token in every epistle, so I write: that the grace of our Lord Jesus be with you all. Amen" ( 2 Thessalonians 3:17 , 18). If the reader will turn to the closing verse of each of the other thirteen epistles of this apostle, it will be found that the same token, substantially, is given in each one. This is the more striking for neither James , Peter, John , nor Jude employed it. Thus, this closing "grace be with you all" is conclusive evidence that Paul was the writer of this epistle.

"Grace be with you all. Amen." This is the most comprehensive petition that can be presented to God on behalf of His people, either individually or collectively, for it comprises all manner of the blessings of His free favor. Divine grace comprehends and contains all things pertaining to life and godliness. By grace we are saved ( Ephesians 2:8), in grace we stand ( Romans 5:2), through grace we are preserved. These words signify, Let the favor of God be toward you, His power be working in you, bringing forth the fruits of holiness. Thus, the epistle closes with prayer! "When the people of God have been conversing together, by word or writing, it is good to part with prayer, desiring for each other the continuance of the gracious presence of God, that they may meet together in the world of glory" (Matthew Henry.) "Grace be with you all" denoted their actual participation therein.

And now our happy task is completed. Very conscious are we of our limitations and infirmities. We can but commit our poor efforts to God, pleading the merits of Christ to countervail our demerits, and asking Him to bless that which was pleasing to Himself. Let those who have accompanied us throughout these articles join the writer in asking: do we now better understand the contents of this difficult yet blessed epistle? Have we a deeper appreciation of that grand order of things that has superceded Judaism? Is Christ more real and precious to our souls? Are we more conscious of the sanctifying effects of the doctrine which it inculcates? Are we now paying more diligent heed to its weighty exhortations? Are our souls more deeply impressed by its solemn warnings against apostasy? May Divine grace indeed be with us all.

N.B. The articles comprising this series have been written on land and sea. They were commenced in Australia, continued as we crossed three oceans, resumed in England, considerably added to during the years we spent in the U.S.A, and completed in Scotland and England.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pink, A.W. "Commentary on Hebrews 13:4". "A.W. Pink's Commentary on John and Hebrews". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/awp/hebrews-13.html.

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Thursday, January 23rd, 2020
the Second Week after Epiphany
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