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THE ADVENT AND THE PRESENCE
‘Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of Me,) to do Thy will, O God.’
The Greek word which we have translated ‘I come,’ is more than that; it is more than that, it is stronger. It is—‘I am come. I am come.’ The expression denotes two things: that He came, and that where He comes He stays. ‘I am come,’ implies the two facts—the Advent and His presence. ‘I am come.’ He came! He came to take our sins from us. He came to die, to be our Substitute. And now, having done that, He stays. ‘I am come.’ He is with us still—our Companion, our Brother, our Guide, our Friend. And this is the Father’s will.
I. The Son of God has come.—He has been actually born, as we were born, that He has grown up, as we have grown up—an infant, a child, a boy, a youth, a man—that He loved as we love—for He did—that He has gone through all the experiences—that His body was like ours, that His body has hungered, and thirsted, and fainted, and wearied; that it was tortured and died; that it was bruised and buried and rose again; how real! how full of sympathy! how comforting! how strengthening! how ennobling! how encouraging! what a dignity! what a fellowship! what a sweetness is this in every passage of life. How it elevates and consecrates our humanity. ‘I am come.’
II. He is here still.—The expression ‘I am come’ implies I am here still. ‘I am, at this moment, at your side. I stay. I shall not go. I never go. I am come. Invisible, but quite as true, I am here now. I am here now. One day you will see Me visibly, but I am here now. Then I shall be visible. You will see Me again with your bodily eyes quite plainly, quite plainly.’ Oh! how much is wrapped up in that word—‘I am come!’ What a different world—how cold, how empty, how hard it would be to every one who believes the doctrine, if that word were taken away, ‘I am come.’
—Rev. James Vaughan.
ATONEMENT THROUGH THE CROSS
‘In which will we have been sanctified through the offering of the Body of Jesus Christ once for all.’
Hebrews 10:10 (R.V.m.)
There are three points in connection with the Scriptural representation of the doctrine of the Atonement which must be kept constantly in mind.
I. The Atonement is the work of the whole Trinity, and the sacrifice of the Cross is offered to the whole Trinity. ‘God,’ writes St. Paul to his Greek converts, ‘was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, not reckoning unto them their trespasses.’ There can surely be no place in Christian theology for what really postulates division of sentiment in the mind of the Divine Unity. We dare not think of the Son as more compassionate than the Father, or of the Father as more moved by indignation than the Son.
II. He Who is ‘perfect God’ was manifested as ‘perfect Man.’—In Him all humanity was gathered together—a consummation possible through His birth of the Virgin Mary. Accordingly it may be said that in a sense humanity suffered in His sufferings and was crucified upon His Cross. Though we cannot exclude the vicarious element, yet the view which gives exclusive force to that element falls short even of that measure of the truth to which our intellectual and spiritual faculties may attain. It fails to take into sufficient account the dominant significance of the Incarnation. ‘Without controversy great is the mystery of godliness; He Who was manifested in the flesh.’ The Divine Word took upon Himself our nature in its totality. His life was the summing up of all creation in one fitly prepared Body. He did not therefore merely occupy our position. The solidarity of life which had for a while been man’s curse was by the infinite love transfigured into an eternal blessing.
III. There is the power of Christ’s perfect obedience.—‘Lo! I am come to do Thy will.’ He offers a ministry of absolute righteousness. Throughout His life He was untainted with sin. Neither the ordinary temptations of weak and erring men, nor those special spiritual trials which His supreme calling brought with it—those trials which came to Him first of all during the forty days in the wilderness, but which we are told were suspended, not abandoned—were able to impair the infinite value of that oblation. ‘Which if you convicteth Me of sin?’ is His own challenge. ‘One that hath been in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin,’ is the witness of this Epistle. There is no denial implied of growth and development; neither does reverence require that we should weaken the power and meaning of those experiences which He endured.
—Rev. the Hon. W. E. Bowen.
‘Some may remember the splendid lines of John Newton, one of the religious poets of the eighteenth century, who after being employed in the African slave trade and given over to profligacy, was in time brought to a sense of the depth of his sinfulness. In them he describes—the simplicity and sincerity of the lines bear witness to their autobiographical character—how the conception of the self-sacrifice of Christ as offered for him personally had sobered and changed him.’
In evil long I took delight,
Unawed by shame or fear,
Till a new object struck my sight,
And stopped my wild career.
I saw One hanging on a Tree
In agonies and blood
Who fix’d His languid eyes on Me
As near His Cross I stood.
Sure never till my latest breath
Can I forget that look;
It seem’d to charge me with his death,
Though not a word He spoke;
My conscience felt and own’d the guilt,
And plung’d me in despair;
I saw my sins His Blood had spilt,
And help’d to nail Him there.
Alas! I knew not what I did!
But now my tears are vain:
Where shall my trembling soul be hid?
For I the Lord have slain!
A second look He gave, which said,
‘I freely all forgive;
This Blood is for thy ransom paid;
I die that thou may’st live.’
Thus while His death my sin displays
In all its blackest hue,
Such is the mystery of grace,
It seals my pardon too.
With pleasing grief and mournful joy,
My spirit now is fill’d,
That I should such a life destroy,
Yet live by Him I kill’d.
But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins, for ever sat down on the right hand of God; from henceforth expecting till His enemies be made His footstool.’
Look at these two verses, and see three things:—
I. The work which He has accomplished.—His death was the great purpose of His Incarnation. He came from heaven to die because there was no one else who could possibly have died a sacrifice for sin.
II. The position which He is occupying.—Having accomplished that work, the text tells us He ‘sat down on the right hand of God.’ Is it not strange to think that Jesus Christ ‘sat down’? We look about us to-day, and it is not too much to say that more than one-half of the human race has never heard of that sacrifice which Jesus Christ made upon the Cross. Do you not wonder, then, that He has ‘sat down’? Jesus Christ made that atonement, that sacrifice for sin, because, as we have seen, there was none other who could make it. But God never does what we can do. Here, then, is the awful responsibility which rests upon us—that God has ordained that the work of the Saviour Himself shall be left so far incomplete, because it is the will of your Heavenly Father that you and I shall complete it.
III. Mark, then, the hope that He is cherishing.—He Who is now seated on the right hand of God and waiting, He is expecting. He is ‘expecting until His enemies be made His footstool.’ He is expecting that His Church will be so filled with gratitude because of the sacrifice He made, so filled with compassion because they have caught something of His Spirit—He is expecting that His Church will be so longing for His Coming, that they will hasten to perform His wish, and tell every creature that He has died. Is He to expect in vain?
—Rev. Canon E. A. Stuart.
ACCESS INTO THE HOLIEST
‘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 … let us draw near.’
Access to God in Paradise was direct and easy. Nay, God Himself came there to man. But the tempter interposed, and made a separation between them. Through sacrifice, however, the intercourse was renewed. But even then access to God was not all that man needed, because of the inadequacy of his offering to God. Christ presented Himself to God for man and was accepted. Thus was Paradise regained.
I. The way into the holiest is opened.—In the Hebrew sancuary there were three degrees of approach to God. The outer court was for the general congregation; the holy place for the officiating priests; and the holiest of all for the high priest, and was so rigidly limited to him that neither priest in the holy place, nor worshipper in the outer court, must accompany him, or the glories of the Shechinah would have consumed him. But it is far otherwise now. Our ‘great High Priest’ has opened the way to the mercy-seat in heaven, and is now present at the right hand of God, so that any Jew or Gentile may at once enter into the Divine Presence, and with holy boldness or joyous freedom utter all he thinks to his reconciled Father.
II. The way into the holiest is consecrated.—It was sprinkled ‘by the blood of Jesus’; and He was the God-man; hence His blood is ever efficacious. This fact gives deep meaning to the words, ‘a new and living way.’
( a) A way that conducts to life.
( b) A way that imparts life.
( c) A way that perpetuates life.
III. The way into the holiest is established.—The high priest of the elder dispensation was permitted to enter but once each year into the presence-chamber of Jehovah. His service there was necessarily short; and when over, the entrance was closed against him until the revolving year brought round the same momentous day. But that imperfect economy is superseded by the perfect one, and Jesus is High Priest over the Church—the spiritual house of God. No priest so great or glorious. ‘He continueth ever,’ and therefore ‘hath an unchangeable priesthood.’
AN EXHORTATION TO PRAYER
The word ‘boldness’ is to be understood in the sense of ‘liberty’; for it is the boldness which arises from perfect freedom that the Apostle means.
I. The ‘throne of grace’ is not now guarded.—Prayer is no longer a priestly function or a Levitical ceremony, but the birthright of all those ‘born again.’ All who are in Christ are Gospel ‘Levites,’ a ‘royal priesthood’ and a ‘holy priesthood.’ Jesus Christ Himself having made them ‘kings and priests unto God.’ How cheering the truth to all saints that all can enter the ‘holiest of all’ by the ‘blood of Jesus.’
II. The new way of approaching God is simple, direct, and safe.
( a) This is a permanent way. It is a living way in contrast to the slaughtered victims which the ceremonial law demanded.
( b) This is a designed way ‘consecrated for us.’
( c) This is an opened way—‘through the veil.’
III. Christ is the High Priest over ‘the spiritual house,’ including the Church on earth and the Church in heaven. The prayers of the saints are not permitted to fall to the ground; they are heard by Christ and preserved in vials ( Hebrews 4:14-16).
‘There was on exhibition a small key which is capable of opening 22,600 patent lever locks, each one with different ward-combinations; it is a master key, and before it all doors will fly. Prayer is such a key; the doors of heaven’s stores can be unlocked by it, and the treasures of grace, peace, and prosperity poured at our feet. We have only to use this key, and the wealth of God in Christ is at our disposal. The key can be used by the veriest child in grace; therefore let us use it.’
ESSENTIALS OF TRUE PRAYER
‘Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.’
The text teaches us how to pray acceptably, and sets before us the three great essentials of acceptable and true prayer.
I. A true heart.—Lip-worship is an abomination unto the Lord. ‘This people draweth nigh unto Me with their mouth, and honoureth Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.’
( a) A heart true towards God.
( b) A heart true towards ourselves.
( c) A heart true towards others.
II. A strong faith.—‘Without faith it is impossible to please God’; and the stronger our faith, the more pleasing to God.
( a) The mark of a strong faith is assurance.
( b) The faith God requires in our prayers is faith full to assurance.
( c) The faith most honoured by God is that which is full of assurance.
Not merely full up to the point of assurance, but full of assurance. We should seek to attain this degree of faith.
III. A consistent character.—‘Having our hearts sprinkled.’ The expression indicates a consistent character as essential to a devout life—internal purity and outward conformity ( Psalms 24:3-4). The praying man must be he on whom the Spirit of God must rest ( Ezekiel 36:25-26). These three essentials may seem difficult to realise, but Sincerity, Faith, and Consistency are within the reach of all.
CONDITIONS OF ACCESS
‘Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkles from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering.’
Having seen the way of access to the holiest, let us note the essential qualifications for the exalted privilege thus granted to us.
I. The inner man must be hallowed.—‘Hearts sprinkled.’
II. The outer man must be prepared.—‘Bodies washed.’ Fresh, pure water is emblematic of the grace of the Holy Spirit; and the action thereof is as manifest in the conduct of believers as the cleanliness of their bodies after being ‘washed with pure water.’
III. The approach must be unfeigned.—‘Without wavering.’ Faith in God leads souls to God; and they cannot go to Him sincerely without being accepted by Him. Thus faith should be strong, having ‘full assurance.’
RESULTS OF PRAYER
‘Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering … and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.’
Here we have the results of prayer offered in accordance with the will of God.
I. Loyalty to God and the truth.—This is—
( a) Based upon the clearness and brightness of our sustaining hope. The Revised Version translates the first sentence thus: ‘Let us hold fast the confession of our hope.’ Hope is faith in exercise; hope rests on faith, and at the same time quickens faith, and is the ground of a bold confession ( 1 Peter 3:15).
(b) Strengthened and increased by the knowledge we have of the fidelity of God ( Hebrews 5:2-3; see also Hebrews 6:17-18; Hebrews 11:11; Hebrews 12:26; Hebrews 12:28.)
II. Emulation in Christian service.—Having enjoined ‘faith’ and ‘hope’ the Apostle must enforce the chief grace. Love is promoted and displayed by service; to provoke love is to promote service.
( a) Each will be animated by a spirit of unselfishness. ‘Considering one another,’ paying due regard to the conditions, circumstances, and characters of others.
( b) A spirit of unselfishness and self-sacrifice will prove the most powerful incentive to Christian love and work. Life begets life; love begets love; activity generates activity. To provoke means to urge, to spur, to excite, to arouse; we should ever be on the watch for opportunities to urge each other on in Christian work, and to spur one another to higher attainments in the Christian life. Communion with God will promote this better than anything else.
III. A delight in Christian fellowship.—This is one of the most practical fruits of a devotional spirit.
( a) A prayerful spirit promotes a holy delight in the service of the sanctuary.
( b) Neglect of the ‘house of God’ is the natural consequence of neglected devotions. Private prayer sharpens the appetite for public worship. The reason St. John the Divine saw such visions on the rocky Isle of Patmos was that he was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day.
( c) Fellowship with Christians in the house of God promotes mutual affection and develops increased zeal. ‘So much the more as ye see the day approaching.’
‘IF WE SIN WILFULLY ——’
‘If we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins … It is a fearful thing to fall into the bands of the living God.’
To whom do these words refer?
I. He who has received the knowledge of the truth.—These Hebrews had been enlightened; their difficulty was not darkness of mind, but unwillingness of heart. This passage has nothing to do with sincere seekers who cannot discover what the truth or what the method of salvation is.
II. He who is compared to the despiser of Moses’ law who died without mercy.—Both sins are regarded as of the same character. Under Moses’ law the sentence of instant death was not for offences in general; atonement could be made and joyfulness secured for them; but for the sin of deliberate rejection of God (see Deuteronomy 13:6-11; Deuteronomy 17:2-7). The Jew referred to, then, is he who deliberately renounced Jehovah to serve other gods; and he of whom the Apostle writes is compared with him.
III. He who rejects with contempt the Son of God, the blood of the covenant, the Spirit of Grace.—The idea in these most solemn words is clearly that of contempt. He does not count the blood of the covenant a common thing who longs to feel its efficacy, nor despise the Spirit of Grace who seeks His help, nor tread underfoot the Son of God who desires to possess Him.
IV. Why God cannot save such.
( a) God cannot save him, because he repudiates the only remedy for sin ( Hebrews 10:26).
( b) God cannot save him, because His judgment is eternally righteous ( Hebrews 10:28-29).
( c) God cannot save him, because His Word is inviolably true.
THE BLESSING OF REMEMBRANCE
‘But call to remembrance the former days, in which, after ye were illuminated, ye endured a great fight of afflictions.’
Remember the circumstances under which the temptation to fall away assailed the Hebrews. Christianity was no longer a new thing; there were long-continued hardships from unbelieving countrymen. The Lord had not yet come, as He had foretold, for the punishment of His enemies. The perilous times He had spoken of were upon them. Many of His followers were offended, many turned back and betrayed their brethren, iniquity abounded, and the love of many waxed cold. This Epistle was a trumpet blast to waverers, appealing to their reason, affection, fear, conscience.
The memory of early Christian life should encourage us to steadfastness. The writer of this Epistle reminds them—
I. Of their early spiritual enlightenment.
II. Of what after their enlightenment they were able to do.
III. Of the hope which accompanied this.
PATIENCE AND HOPE
‘Ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise.’
The hope of perfected Christian life should encourage us to steadfastness. The keynote of these words is hope.
I. Christian life will end in wonderful blessing.—‘Promise,’ equivalent to ‘promised blessing.’ There is a promised blessing to be enjoyed after the will of God is done. The writer of the Epistle has already reminded them of the recompense in doing God’s will, but beyond that there is another, which ‘eye hath not seen, nor ear heard.’
II. The temporary character of the trials which precede this blessing.—‘Yet a little while.’ The promised blessing is eternal, the painful interval is ‘a little while.’ The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared, etc.
III. The brave endurance of these temporary trials makes the blessing all the greater.—For there is a special ‘promise’ to him who, amid opposition, persists in doing the will of God. All the redeemed will have life; but how many will have the crown?
‘The just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, My soul shall have no pleasure in him. But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.’
‘The just shall live by faith’ is a quotation from Habakkuk ( Hebrews 2:4), who predicted not only the Chaldean invasion, but the Chaldeans’ subsequent humiliation; the devout Jews looked almost hopelessly for the fulfilment of this latter event, and the verses quoted here were to encourage them in their expectation. The application of this to the Hebrews was in the fact that even under the Old Covenant God declared that perseverance in faith was the mark of His justified ones. If we had to prove this we should hardly turn to the minor prophets, but the writer of this Epistle is dealing with Jews, and finds an unanswerable proof that apostasy denies the possession of Divine life.
I. The test of justification is continuance. That the word ‘just’ here means ‘justified’ is evident from the use of the quotation in the Epistle to the Galatians: ‘That no man is justified by the law is evident, for the just shall live by faith.’ A great thing to have some plain evidence of our justification, and that evidence is found in continuity of adherence to Christ, and the production of the natural fruits of this. Men are apt to base their hopes of justification on a faith they had years ago. But ‘the righteous shall hold on his way.’
II. The temptation to draw back is consistent with continuance ( Hebrews 10:39). Not a mere utterance of the ‘charity which hopeth all things,’ but a meaning full of tenderness. The Hebrews were sorely tempted to shrink back, and were not yet victorious over that temptation, but still listening to the tempter; this was highly dangerous, though not necessarily fatal: it had led to coolness, but not necessarily to severance from Christ: and the writer seems to meet the fear of humble believers which the declaration about ‘shrinking back’ might induce, that their case was hopeless. The tempted, wavering, cold-hearted disciple is in peril; but temptation is not sin; wavering is not rejection; cool-heartedness is not deadness; and though they are there, the ‘shrinking back unto perdition’ is not yet reached.
III. There is a more terrible perdition for those who fail of continuance.—That is implied here. Let none be disheartened, but let none presume. These words had not been written unless it were possible to shrink back—shrink back from what looked like Christian life, and from cherished hopes of Christian life, as Judas did, into perdition. Think of a member of the Church shrinking back into perdition!—perdition tenfold worse because it is darkness after light, despair after hope, a fall into the depths from the gate of heaven. What a tremendous appeal to the wavering!
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Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Hebrews 10". The Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany