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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary
Hebrews 12

 

 

Other Authors
Verse 1-2

SPIRITUAL ENVIRONMENT

‘Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the Author and Finisher of our faith.’

Hebrews 12:1-2

‘Seeing that we are compassed about’—whether we see it or not it is a truth. There are so many people who seem to live quite unconscious of environment. And what is true of ordinary things is also true of the Kingdom of God. Some Christians are so very unsympathetic to environment, and there are some whose eyes are open and they see Jesus at the right hand of God. It is like that Old Testament story of Elisha’s servant.

But what are we compassed about with? The writer of this Epistle does not say that we are compassed about with a great cloud—mark the word ‘cloud’—of spectators, observers; no, he says witnesses. And the word ‘witness’ means not a spectator, an observer, but one who testifies, a martyr. We might render it ‘We are compassed about with so great a cloud of martyrs.’

Now mark the word ‘wherefore.’ The eleventh chapter, which precedes this, is the great chapter of the saints of old, who waxed valiant in the fight, who were stoned, tempted, sawn asunder, and who confessed that they were only strangers and pilgrims who sought a better country, and that a heavenly, who were destitute, tormented, afflicted, of whom the world was not worthy.

Then just let me follow the text out in the simplest way. What are we to do?

I. First of all we are to ‘lay aside every weight, and the sin that doth so easily beset us.’ The word ‘us’ is not in the original. It does not mean sin within us at all. We are to lay aside every weight and the sin which is always at us.

II. And then the second point is this—run with patience the appointed course.—There is where the happiness comes in. You yourself are placed on the course by God—it is all His choice. He made you, and He has made the conditions in which you have got to run.

III. And then, last of all, ‘Looking unto Jesus.’—Keep your eye in the right direction. How strong here is the preposition! It is not looking unto exactly. There is a little word which in the Greek means looking into Jesus, right into Him, not looking only at His words, His works, His miracles, and His beautiful Life; something more than that, looking right into Him and reading His heart.

IV. Then comes the last beautiful expression of the text, ‘the Author and Finisher of our faith.’—Now, is not that a complete text? See how complete it is, coming after chapter 11. The Lord Jesus is the author of faith, and the end of faith, too. If we have faith in Jesus, He put it there. He is the Author of it. It is His faith in us. He is the Author of your faith, and He is the Finisher of your faith. He Who has begun the good work in you will continue it unto the day of His coming.

Rev. A. H. Stanton.

(SECOND OUTLINE)

WORK FOR GOD

What is the work God has given us to do? Plainly it has many parts, plainly there are details peculiar to each one of us, but, speaking broadly, we can distinguish certain universal elements in it.

I. The formation of our own character.—We might say that our work here for God is the formation of our own character. The many sayings of the wise which so soon become commonplaces about life being a place of trial, a state of probation, mean just this, that our natural instincts and desires are given us by God as so much material out of which to fashion our own characters. They are just the warp and woof by means of which we are set down to weave at tapestry fit for the eyes of God, they are so much clay out of which to mould things upon the wheel of the world. We have to fashion a vessel for the glory of God. Now there is a work—who can deny it?—that lies upon us all. How does it fare? Are we yet masters of ourselves? Do we know yet our defects, our deficiencies? Have we sought in any systematic way to remedy or to supply them? Do we know that it is a case for surgery from which the flesh shrinks, an eye or a hand that causes us to stumble and cries out for treatment? Is it sin that does beset us, or is it care that encumbers? What to each of us here in church at this moment as moral beings is the one thing needful? Probably we all know. Is it regard for truth, is it the control of temper, is it the control of evil desire, is it the banishment of sloth, the banishment of selfishness? All these, we know, of themselves are great works, difficult, very difficult of enterprise, simple as they sound, but we know in our heart of hearts that they are all works for God which lie upon us all, they are all part of the race, and are all well worth adventuring in His Name with Him our source and our goal. And shall we say, then, that there is part of our life’s work, the making of ourselves?

II. Our share in the making of others.—But that does not exhaust it. We each of us also have our share in the making of others, for no one lives to himself, and sometimes, while we have to keep a clear eye open to these clogging faults, we cure them best in the course of that other work which is not so self-conscious, as we throw our interest out from ourselves on some other cause of God. We all have some work for others. We all have some ties, some who depend upon us, people of whose consciences, though we cannot recognise the fact, we are really the keepers, people with whom our words and actions weigh, and therefore people whom we help to mould day by day into our own likeness—our pupils, our clerks, apprentices, secretaries, employees, juniors, and there also is a great part of our work for God. And beyond these, there are all those others whom Christ sums up as our neighbours, those who can plead no tie but that of a common blood and a common need, and who bring that need into our view. To these also we have a duty in God’s name. Do not think, brethren, that we are ever losing ground in the race by helping others. These are not the encumbrances we are told to get rid of. Jesus is the Leader; we keep our eyes upon Him to tread in His steps, to copy His example, and surely in no way can we follow Him more closely than by helping others to follow Him. We can each do a work for the glory of God in making friends with somebody who plainly needs friendship, somebody whom our clearer judgment may instruct, somebody whom our firmer will may help to control. One wishes very often that Church membership meant more in the Church of England than it does. We can hardly offer God a better prayer than that Church membership may come again in England to mean something real.

III. Our place in the commonwealth.—Then, again, there is all that work by which we take our place in the commonwealth, which is from God, because the powers that be are ordained of God, and this too must be for God, our daily work, our task. Of course, some work is richer than other in the width of its influence for good, such work as the administration of justice, or the long labour of legislation, or the command of the sea and land forces, or the patient work of investigators, or the art of the poet or the painter. All these are works whose influences spread far and wide, and from kingdom to kingdom, and generation to generation, and the glory of such work and its consolation in the hour of fatigue and perplexity and discouragement is that it may all be substantial labour on those eternal walls of God’s righteous kingdom which He is slowly building up from day to day through the task work of you and me. But whatever our work is, if it is real work and true work, work in trade or manufactory or business, so far as it bears upon the lives of men it is in accordance with the Divine will and it brings its blessing. Even work that may seem but play, the work of amusing the nation, work which absorbs at the present day so much skill, that has its part, that, if it is sound in its influences, is work for God. Such, then, is at least some part of the work God has given us upon the hearts and minds of ourselves and others in all the manifold activities of civilised society.

—Rev. Canon Beeching.

Illustration

‘You will remember that poem of Tennyson’s about the northern farmer. When he lies on his death-bed he solaces himself with the thought that he had done one thing in life before he left it, he had “stubb’d Thurnaby waäste.” That was a righteous boast. He had attempted something, done something with his life before the night came and he could work no longer, and that satisfaction in work wisely undertaken and successfully carried through is one of the greatest happinesses of life. It is a happiness that comes from God, and God grant that we all may know what that happiness is.’


Verse 2

JOY IN GRIEF

‘Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame.’

Hebrews 12:2

What made the ‘joy’ of the grief of our great Intercessor? Plainly it arose from three things—love, service, heaven.

I. It was love that brought Him to this earth, and laid Him upon that cross; love that could not be satisfied without the presence and the fellowship of those that He died to save.

II. And service—service to sinners; service to His Church; service to God.

III. And heaven—a heaven fuller than before; a heaven peopled with His friends; His own loved ones at His side; and a God glorified.

This made Christ’s joy—the ‘joy’ which rose superior to all His troubles, and which enabled Him to ‘endure the cross and despise the shame.’ So, like Him, bring into your ‘cross,’ or ‘shame,’ these three elements—love, service, heaven—and, and your ‘cross’ will be your life, and your ‘shame’ your glory!

Rev. James Vaughan.


Verses 4-6

THE DIVINE DISCIPLINE OF LIFE

‘Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin. And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of Him: for whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth.’

Hebrews 12:4-6

We have in the passage a conception of the Divine discipline of life, and that conception may be summed up in three words which represent three aspects of the Divine discipline.

I. First, then, the Divine discipline refutes.—The passage quoted from the Book of Proverbs tells the Christian to avoid two extremes when he is under the discipline of God. On the one hand, when he is plunged into the bitter sea of pain and sorrow he is not to try and shake off the salt drops with a laugh of contempt. ‘Despise not thou the chastening of the Lord.’ Nor, on the other hand, is he, as the words of the Divine original seem to mean, to turn away, sick and loathing, from God’s terrible proof. For the word ‘rebuke’—‘faint when thou art rebuked of Him’—it is not so much rebuke or reproof as it is refutation.

II. God’s discipline is an education.—In the verses between the fifth and the eleventh, the same word, whether implying the process or the realised result, is used eight times over. There is an important difference between the word ‘teaching’ and the word ‘education.’ The word rendered ‘teaching’ in the New Testament generally means a single lesson on an isolated subject.

III. God’s discipline corrects.—‘Scourgeth every son whom He receiveth.’ There are two of these great correctives in the experience of human life, and in a few years all of us must meet one or the other—sorrow and pain. And, as a great German once wrote, without sorrow no man is ennobled.

—Archbishop Alexander.

Illustration

‘The most finely organised amongst men have the most delicately strung nerves, and they suffer most. The Chinese robber who is being slowly starved to death day by day laughs loudly through the bars of his movable prison at the people who surround him. It has been said, and sometimes said by deep thinkers, that physically speaking the two thieves upon the Cross suffered more pain than our Blessed Lord did. They forget the exquisite organism of that humanity, of that body which was prepared for its purpose. As Christ was the Man of Sorrows so He was the Man of Suffering, and as no sorrow was like His sorrow, so no sufferings were like His sufferings. The only explanation is this: not the natural life, not the physical life, but the spiritual life is the highest thing in the sight of God.’


Verse 6

SIN AND ITS PUNISHMENT

‘Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth.’

Hebrews 12:6

Scripture tells us of God’s fatherly chastisements; and speaks of them, like human chastisements, as both deterrent and remedial.

I. They are spoken of as deterrent.—‘When Thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world shall learn righteousness.’ We can understand that the fate of Elymas, whom St. Paul struck with blindness, and the fate of the Corinthian adulterer, whom he ‘delivered to Satan,’ must have been of profound and far-stretching influence in the early Church. But how if God’s judgments are not recognised as coming from Him? If any human events may be ascribed to the avenging hand of God, should we not assign to this cause pestilence and war? But it is common experience that times of war and pestilence, so far from being times of learning righteousness, are times of exceptional forgetfulness of it. God’s judgments, like man’s judgments, avail to deter us from sin only so far as they are realised as the inevitable accompaniment and shadow of sin—its necessary consequence. A man who by some intimate knowledge has realised the shattered health of the debauchee and the drunkard’s paralysed will does gain a horror of those sins which speeds him on the path of temperance and chastity. A student of history, who has realised that the decay of nations has in past times been brought about by the decline of public spirit and the growth of private luxury, will lift a warning voice to his fellow-citizens, and for his own part will devote himself without reserve to the public good. But we must allow that the least effect of the Divine chastisements is their effect as deterrent, because it is so hard to realise.

II. The greater stress is laid in the Bible on the side most efficacious in our human punishments, their remedial power, when the sufferer recognises them as chastisements from the Father in heaven. But how can this recognition be brought about in hearts where there seems to be no love of God to appeal to? Sometimes, in God’s mercy, it is the suddenness, the unexpectedness, of the blow, or the sharpness of the punishment, that strikes home to the conscience as by the very hand of God, and creates the conviction that God is not mocked, which is the root of penitence. Many of us may know cases where the detection and prompt punishment of a first offence has stopped a career of wrong-doing. Sometimes it is sickness that, by laying a man low, gives him leisure to consider his ways and take stock of the meaning and purpose of his life. Or sometimes it is from quite other sources—from books, from the wonder of the world, from the quiet influence of a Christian life, that there comes to a man the revelation that what he had previously held to be merely accidental disappointments, accidental troubles, were, in truth, Divine punishments, sent to wean him from his selfishness; and he confesses, ‘It was good for me that I have been in trouble, that I might learn Thy law.’

III. As we compare human punishment, as it is administered in the family and the state, with the chastisements of God, this point emerges. A son sometimes, despite all his father can do, goes, as we say, to the bad. The chastisements of love prove of no effect; and what punishments the state may have had occasion to inflict are equally unavailing. Punishment in such a case becomes perpetual; there is banishment from the family circle, seclusion from society. What will happen if the chastisements of the heavenly Father and heavenly Law-giver are as fruitless? Does there survive in them also, when they are proved powerless to deter or to remedy, their fundamental character of retribution? Must they maintain, as against the sinner, a continual assertion of the law of righteousness? Or, to put the question in a shape in which we are more familiar with it: When all the penitent sinners are forgiven, is it in the will of the righteous and eternal God to punish eternally the impenitent? To that question the highest human reason has always given the answer Yes. The self-pleasing Sybarite may take another view, he may fall back on irresponsibility and predestination and say—

‘Some there are who tell

Of one who threatens he will toss to hell

The luckless pots he marr’d in making—pish,

He’s a good fellow, and ‘twill all be well.’

But Plato has no doubt. The sense of justice, as it is implanted in the human mind, demands that sin and suffering should go together. But then also the human reason has never forgotten that God is love as well as righteousness, and so it has cherished the hope that there must be, within the Divine armoury, weapons of punishment capable of piercing in to the most obdurate and impenetrable hearts, and arousing in them the saving consciousness of sin.

IV. The problem whether any human will can reduce itself to eternal incompatibility with the will of God, so as to be cast as ‘rubbish to the void,’ is not a problem for us. With Scripture before us, we cannot (as some have done) deny the possibility. The problem for us is so to fix our thoughts on God’s righteous law that we may never lose the sense of penitence, and so to fix our thoughts on God’s fatherly love that we may never lose the sense of sonship. ‘Father, I have sinned; I am no more worthy to be called Thy son; but I accept my chastisement; I am Thy son—save me.’

—Rev. Canon Beeching.

Illustration

‘What use does punishment serve in the family? Partly we mean it to be deterrent, both to the offending child and to the other members of the household; we want sin and sorrow to be associated in the child’s mind as cause and effect; but still more we wish it to exercise a remedial effect upon character, and this it helps to do, in its proper character as retribution, by enforcing respect for the law which has been broken. It calls fresh attention to the law of the family, emphasises it, vindicates it. And by itself punishment cannot accomplish more than this. Punishment cannot make any one hate wrong-doing, or feel reverence for law. That effect can only be produced by the character of the father who administers the chastisement; whose own love of right and hatred of wrong, and love of the wrong-doer and zeal for his highest welfare, are clearly distinguished in and through the chastisement he feels bound to inflict.’


Verse 9

DISCIPLINE AND LIFE

‘Shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?’

Hebrews 12:9

You are all familiar with the fact that very frequently in the New Testament parallels between the earthly home and the earthly father with the heavenly home and the heavenly Father are set forth as illustrations.

I. The discipline of life.—It is that parallel that the sacred writer here makes use of. But he is thinking of something different. He is thinking of life in relationship to discipline. He says that all life begins with discipline, and that in all true life there must be a continuance of discipline till the end has been obtained. The earthly father must in the nature of the case, not because he does not love, but because he does love the child, exercise the law and order of discipline. The education in the hands of the earthly father may be a mistaken one. ‘They verily chastened us,’ not as it is recorded in the Authorised Version ‘after their own pleasure,’ but rather ‘They verily chastened us as it seemed good to them’—that is, according to the best of their ability. And yet that best might not be the highest best; still we give them credit for having chastened us as seemed good to them. In contrast with that he sets the Divine Father’s training and education.

II. A parallel and a contrast.—Now when you think of this parallel, which is also a parallel connected with a contrast, I think you will be first struck by the pathetic picture which the writer conjures up of the incompleteness of the earthly father’s education. It is so true that we are all ready to recognise that human instruction, human education, human providence exercised towards any of the growing children about us is so often faulty and mistaken.

III. The purpose of discipline.—And let me say this word. What a gain it is to every human being who will realise that he is under the educating hand of the Father of spirits. Whatever wisdom parents have they cannot penetrate into that chamber of the child’s spirit. The spirit remains very largely an enclosed thing, and it is in that spirit that the education must go on. I cannot reach the inner power. We want the education of the spirit, and that is precisely what we cannot reach. We can only remind our sons that there is that spiritual bond. They will bring also greater satisfaction to you if they remember that they are not only your sons, but the sons of Almighty Righteousness, Eternal Wisdom, and of the Divine Father.

IV. The two halves of life.—It is not only in the education of the spirit that the advantage of this recognition of the discipline of the father comes; it is also in this that the halves of life are brought so beautifully together. The conflict is between the domination of the thing physical and the thing spiritual. He is in conflict with you; you are only the father of his flesh, and yet, what you want is that he should realise not simply that your domination is that of the father, and due to the reverence that he is your offspring; you want him to be animated by a nobler spirit than that. But if you make him realise that he is a child of the Divine Father, then what follows? That Divine Father is educating. Where does His education come in? All through life. Therefore, shall we not rather be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? Do you wish to enter into the fulness of life? Remember the scientific man with his patience and observation. No chastening of the present seems to be joyous, but there is an afterwards, and it is faith in the afterwards, it is faith that duty accepted to-day means capacity afterwards. We shall find that in the hereafter we shall understand what life is, for there is fulness of joy at God’s right hand, but that fulness of joy can only be the part of those who have entered into the fulness of God’s will here, for this they will enter into the full understanding of His ways and works, and so the afterwards will yield the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have had the courage to be exercised by the disciplining hand of God in life.

Bishop W. Boyd Carpenter.

Illustration

‘A father’s dream for his son is not always realised. The moment comes when the father must wake up to see that what he has under his control is a being he cannot dictate to, hut who in some moment in his life will take his own choice and his own way. There is something very pathetic about the failure of earthly dreams of fatherhood and parenthood. But is there not something good in it after all? Is there not something which brings us to the principle which underlies the disappointment, to a reconciliation of the principles upon which life is built? This assertion of will and of choice on the child’s part, is it wholly bad? Do you not realise in it that you have made a profound mistake? You thought of playing providence to your child, to manipulate his character so that he would be trained for a career, and the day comes when you wake up to the fact that the lad has a mind and spirit of his own. There is a capacity for choice in this child’s mind. You have had your dreams, but the lad has had his dreams too. Is it wholly bad? Does it not teach you this—You are fathers of the flesh; the bond between you and the child is the bond which is for flesh and blood. But the child is not flesh and blood alone: he is dowered by the Almighty with His Gift of the Spirit, and his spirit must rise and must assert itself.’


Verse 14

HOLINESS OF LIFE

‘Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.’

Hebrews 12:14

Our subject is holiness; personal holiness which shows itself in the daily life; that personal possession of something which leads us day by day to live according to God’s laws.

I. A life of holiness is a life not ruled by the body but by the spirit.

II. How shall we obtain this holiness?—The right holiness of life is shown in the life of Christ. We are the possessors of the life of our Lord Jesus Christ, and we have received not only forgiveness of the past but cleansing. So the life of Christ is in our lives. We become partakers with Him and His Spirit dwelleth in us.

III. Our bounden duty.—It is bound upon us to aim at holiness and to possess it because we are not our own. Many so-called Christians are leading a sham life so far as their religion is concerned. Their religion lacks sincerity. We ought to be very circumspect in our daily lives, and to be regular attendants at the house of God and take careful observance of the Holy Sacrament.

IV. Yet it is not in externals that holiness lies.—There must be form, but we must never leave out the inward and spiritual grace. Jesus Christ defined His Church in these words: ‘the Kingdom of God is within you.’ Such is holiness. It is something within.

—Rev. H. Lionel James.


Verse 15-16

PROFANITY

‘Looking diligently … lest there be any … profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright.’

Hebrews 12:15-16

It seems to us, as we read the old story, to have been almost incredible folly in Esau to have flung away his birthright for so trifling a consideration as a meal.

I. But take a parallel case in modern life.—For any one now to cheat at cards is to forfeit the honour of a gentleman, yet for the sake of winning a little money men have been known to make this sacrifice. Well, there is a higher birthright even than that of an English gentleman which belongs to all of us as children of God; and this we recklessly cast from us when we allow our conduct to be dictated by the desires of the flesh. And I doubt if there is any one here who has reached manhood that could not tell of some who have ‘gone under,’ as we say, through not setting their hearts on higher things than the things of sense. I could tell you of some ruined by drink, of others ruined by gambling. And they were such bright boys, popular with every one. One’s heart goes out, like Isaac’s heart, to the young Esaus of the world—bright, passionate, strong, generous, frank, affectionate; but we know that without the fear of God all this charm will go to waste. ‘If only,’ we say, ‘God could be to them a living God, “about their path”; if they could but be taught not to be profane.’

II. What is the cure for the unspiritual view of life?—How may we save our young Englishmen from the failure of Esau? The horror of profanity is that it is so hard to cure.

(a) Our wills may be strengthened by prayer and watching; but if we are profane, if we never think of ourselves as God’s children, we shall have no desire to watch or to pray. If Esau had ever pondered the promise to make of him a great nation, could he have so lightly flung it from him for a moment’s gratification? Let us ponder God’s promises.

(b) Let us read the Book that tells us of our birthright as God’s children. Believe me, there is no protection against profanity like the reading of the Bible. For no one can read the Bible without the thought ever presenting itself and recurring, that God is interested in human life, that He has set a standard for it, that there are deeds which He hates and deeds which He loves, and that there are means provided by which man may be helped to live the life that God approves. To those who will read constantly in the Bible the thought of God as caring, loving, guiding, becomes a constant thought; and to have such a thought of God, to live under the sense of God’s good providence, is to have the strongest defence that we can have. May I urge upon all of you the habit of reading a few verses of the Scripture every night before you go to bed?

III. We must not suppose, because the Apostle is pointing his moral against Esau, that he is therefore holding up Jacob for our unqualified approbation. It must strike you that Jacob, in his own way, had to learn not to be profane before his life could be made a success. Jacob’s profanity was not of the careless, impulsive sort; it was calculating. He thought he could keep in with God and secure His blessing, and yet be dishonest; and God taught him by twenty years’ hard discipline that religion means righteousness. It is of the first importance for us all, whether we have the Esau or the Jacob temper, to flee from profanity; to understand and keep in mind what our birthright is—that we are children of God and brethren of Jesus Christ. Success in life, as we shall see more clearly at the end of it, is to bear a character that God can recognise as inspired by the Holy Spirit of His Son; and the only way to win this character is to live frankly and fearlessly as the children of God and the brethren of Jesus Christ.

Rev. Canon Beeching.

Illustration

‘It is quite plain that neither brains nor muscles alone, nor even these combined, really make up true manhood. Higher than both is character; and to each natural bent, to one as much as the other, the way is open to achieve character. To win character is the only true success in life, for that is to fulfil the purpose of the world. We are sent here with all varieties of physical and mental equipment, with all kinds of special powers adapted to special work; but for each of us, when life is over and the audit comes, the question must be, What in the process of living have we made out of all this raw material of desire and impulse, what at the end of the process are we ourselves? This old-world story, then, of Esau and Jacob is roughly the history of a success and a failure to win character; the success of Jacob, the failure of Esau.’


Verse 16

THE WARNING FROM ESAU

‘Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright.’

Hebrews 12:16

Esau stands out as a solemn warning to us as one who was guilty of the profanity of bartering away his birthright.

I. What is our birthright?—To put it briefly, it is that salvation which is offered to us in and through Christ.

II. How we may sell our birthright.—Esau sold his birthright for one morsel of meat. Is not this what many do to-day?

(a) We think, for instance, of the many who fall, of the thousands upon thousands who are dragged down to hell, because of what we call ‘the drink.’

(b) Are there not others who sell their birthright for carnal, for sensual pleasure, for the lust of the flesh? We may not like to talk about these things, but this is the history of many a man to-day.

(c) And then there are some who sell their birthright for unbelief. There are some who have been brought up in the Christian faith who now tell us in a superior sort of way that they sympathise with such men as Darwin, Huxley, and Herbert Spencer; they tell us that they are not able to believe the truths of the Christian faith, that they are sceptics.

III. What will follow if we sell our birthright?—Esau for one morsel of meat sold his birthright. What follows? Time passes and he comes to his father to receive his blessing, but it is gone. Some one has said, that hell will be the truth known too late. That is, the one who like Esau has sold his birthright, the one who has rejected that salvation offered to him by Christ, will in the life to come, when he realises what he has done, suffer the anguish, it may be the eternal anguish, of the lost.

IV. There is hope.—There was no hope, humanly speaking, for Esau; but thanks be to God for the hope that there is for us; we know that Jesus Christ the Saviour is still able to save to the uttermost.

—Rev. Ernest Walters.

Illustration

‘There are some honest doubters, and we can sympathise with them; but very often we find that doubt, so called, is the result of some sin, some secret sin perhaps, which keeps one back from God. We do not want to believe in God because of this or that sin. The Bishop of St. Albans at the Anniversary Meeting of the Christian Evidence Society told a story of a man who came to him in doubt, and after a little conversation the bishop came to the conclusion that it was the man’s life that was at fault, and so he launched a bold bid and said, “Look here, my friend, be honest with me; tell me, do you not give way to some besetting sin?” And it was so; it was this that kept him back from God; he did not want to believe in God because of this sin. This is often the case: it is sin that keeps men back from God.’

(SECOND OUTLINE)

THE BIRTHRIGHT SOLD

There are thousands of Esaus living at the present time, the favourites of society, easy-going, generous-hearted, not burdened with any anxiety or care, living for to-day, for the flesh, and content to leave the soul alone. They sell their birthright.

Why did Esau part with his birthright?

I. There was a manifest want of appreciation of its value.—He said, ‘Behold, I am at the point to die,’ etc. Evidently he was in a very foolish and wrong state of mind when he could say that concerning his birthright. His privileges were of the highest value.

II. There was a want of consideration.—When Esau sold his birthright it was a thoughtless act, done under the influence of excitement. He did not think of the consequence of the deed. In this respect there are many like Esau; they don’t think, won’t think, carried on by the current of desire or passion.

III. There was a want of self-control.—Esau allowed his appetite to become his master, and, for the sake of satisfying that hunger, snatches the savoury pottage even at the cost of his birthright. What an illustration of the power of passion!

Illustration

‘“Rob Esau of the Oriental garb in which his character is clothed in the sacred narrative, bring him to the platform of contemporary history, represent him to your own mind in the garment of to-day: What is he? Well, he stands before us as a genial, kind-hearted, somewhat passionate, but on the whole a popular country gentleman, fond of field sports, passionately addicted to hunting, keeping a good table and a good house, a man who enters heartily and thoroughly into the amusements of society, a man who makes these things the very end and aim of his life; not a man of very great mental culture, of no political aspirations, but a downright good country squire, and a man who does not trouble himself very much about religious matters.”’


Verse 17

AFTERWARD

‘He found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.’

Hebrews 12:17

Every act has its afterward, and that is the New Testament criticism upon the Old Testament story of Esau. The facts of that story are familiar to you all.

I. There is an afterward that comes when every act must have its due, its appointed consequence, sure as echo follows sound. There are words we never can recall, acts that we have done that we ought not to have done, and that never, never can be undone.

II. There is an afterward dealing with the limits of earth.—We are reminded by God of what we find to be a business fact—that there are some things said and done which we never can, as we look back upon them, repent of in the sense that they can be unsaid or that they can be undone. Is not that your experience of life that every act has an afterward?

III. Think of the ‘afterward’ each time you are called upon to make a decision, each time you are called upon to resist a temptation. Have you got to make a decision to-day? Make it in the light of ‘afterward.’ When you look back you will find your decision irrevocable. Never risk the future for the sake of the present; never do as a lad what you may be sorry for as a man; never do as a girl what you will be sorry for as a woman. Learn that, in that sense, every act has its consequence which must follow, and there will come the New Testament criticism upon conduct which will be summed up in that word ‘afterward.’

IV. Thank God, there is a great afterward.—We ought to believe that life will not be all the same a hundred years hence, however we leave it now. We believe that there is an afterward, an after- and a to-ward, as the word means. We believe that for every act there is an after time, where there is a place of repentance, where it is possible to win back a blessing from One Who, unlike Isaac, has more blessings than one to bestow. Never does He shut the door in the face of a true penitent; but the act does, so much so that in all our actions, all our decisions, everything must be looked at with a view to this wonderful, solemn word which I will leave with you to-day—the word ‘afterward.’

Rev. Canon E. E. Holmes.

Illustration

‘There was a man in South Africa, a Cape merchant, who said that he had got all his money, he had made every farthing that he possessed, dishonestly, either by gambling or by cheating others; and he said: “What can I do? Where is my place of repentance? I cannot find the people I have injured, I cannot undo the harm that I have done however sorry I am for having done it.” He, in one sense, could find no place of repentance. Every act of his life was finding its “afterward.”’


Verses 22-25

OUR PLACE

‘But ye are come unto Mount Sion, and … to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel. See that ye refuse not him that speaketh.’

Hebrews 12:22-25

This ‘place’ requires faith to apprehend it; it requires faith to understand it. ‘Ye are come to the Mount Sion, the city of the living God, the Heavenly Jerusalem.’

I. Mount Sion must be in a certain sense upon earth.—Because we are the children of the Heavenly Jerusalem, as St. Paul tells us, ‘Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.’ Here, then, is a great city, of which we are the children; and yet it is heaven, God dwells in it, Christ dwells in it; we shall come to it, and yet we have come to it. Then the general assembly and Church of the first-born which are written in heaven. It is generally supposed that this refers to the saints in heaven. I scarcely think that it does, because it is said written in heaven, their names are written in heaven.

II. Just think what an inestimable and inconceivable privilege it is to be in the Church of Christ.—If you consider the Church of Christ as a mere established body made by the breath of man, having some Bible lessons, as it were, communicated to it and doled out by it, then, of course, you cannot apprehend this, the greatness of being in the Church; but if you consider that yourself and every one of your fellow-members are parts and members of One Who is now at the right hand of God, then there is an amazing difference. Now, if we are to look at the Church as we should look, we must remember that every person in it who has been baptized and continues in the fellowship of it has some secret, not merely communication by prayer, but some secret bond of union with a Man at the right hand of God in the highest place of the universe.

III. What that communication is we cannot see with our eyes, but it is clearly revealed when it is said by the Apostle, ‘the Church, from whom the whole body by joints and bands ministered and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God.’ What does that mean but an astonishing, mysterious, unspeakable communication betwixt Jesus Christ and every one of us?

Rev. Prebendary Sadler.

 


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Hebrews 12:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cpc/hebrews-12.html. 1876.

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Friday, December 13th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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