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‘We ought to give the more earnest heed to the things that were heard, lest haply we drift away.’
Hebrews 2:1 (R.V.)
What a number of drifting people there are to-day! I wonder how many there are here who would have to agree with Tom Hood, where he says—
(a) In the first place, there are sometimes currents that lead towards Christ, and yet men fight against them. There are parishes, homes, and businesses where in order not to live a Christian life you may have to make quite a struggle. But think what it means. Struggling against the God Who loves you; struggling against Him Who gave Himself for you and claims you as His own!
(b) On the other hand, there are strong currents to-day in which it is easy for men and women to drift, such, for instance, as the currents of unbelief. There are men and women, not only the young, but older men and women, who are being caught in the current of that false religion that is neither ‘Christianity’ nor ‘science.’ There are others beckoning us into agnosticism; others would be glad to draw us into spiritualism; then, again, there is the danger of Unitarianism.
(c) But there are also strong tides of worldly customs into which young men and young women easily fall. There is the ever-open door of the theatre or music-hall to allure them in for amusement and change.
II. See to the moorings.—The soul that is brought to know about Christ is not always really moored to Christ; we must see to our moorings. The ship brought up to the harbour is sometimes badly moored, and when the tide is strong she has a way of twisting round, and woe betide any other vessel near her. We may be brought to know a great deal about Christ, but unless there has been a real heart-surrender, our knowledge will not be of much use; and all the means of grace so blessed and powerful to help will be of themselves of no use, unless our whole being is yielded to the Lord Jesus Christ. You may have your beautiful services and helpful means of grace, but, after all, they are means only, they are the channels whereby the grace comes to our hungry souls; but we must see to it that the channel, the pipe, is kept clear, and not blocked by wilful sin, so that the grace cannot flow. As the great steamer has to be safely moored to the quay-side if it is to be in all respects safe, so we must be wholly moored to the Lord Jesus Christ else we shall certainly drift away from Him. This drifting is at first almost imperceptible.
III. Have the Pilot on board.—Look at that little boat so quickly brought alongside the great steamer! Why! It is the pilot that is being brought on board, and when the pilot is on board we know we are safe if the men in charge do what he tells them. That pilot is like the Holy Spirit, and if we want to get safely through, we must look out not only for the Pilot to come on the ship, but to take full possession. We must obey the man on the bridge! Aye, and you must indeed put the Heavenly Pilot also on the bridge of your life, and give Him the place of control and guidance—yea, the tiller of your will. He will steer you in a moment of time straight back to the Lord Jesus Christ. There will be no more drifting when you have let Him do that, and when you are determined to obey, to follow and to serve Him.
Rev. S. A. Selwyn.
‘Away in West Africa, in Yoruba, you would see opposite the door of a heathen compound something in the shape of a bee-hive, and inside a little lump of clay with eyes and nose and mouth made up of cowrie shells. This is the “devil god” that the poor people worship or rather try to propitiate. Just in front of that piece of clay, you would find a bit of red flannel, or cowrie shells or palm oil—offerings given in order to propitiate the god. “Something in my hand I bring” is their one idea. But the Christian African, east, west, north, and south, is taught “Nothing in my hand I bring.” No merits of my own are of any value, no acts of propitiation that I can do, will avail, but “I cling to Thy Cross, O Lord, my Saviour.” ’
THE SIN OF SINS
‘How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?’
Is not the sin of sins the ‘neglect’ of His ‘great salvation,’ which has been wrought with such marvellous wisdom, love, and sacrifice?
I. How shall we escape?—‘How’—in what way—‘how shall we escape, if we neglect this great salvation?’
(a) By pleading good works? There is not a living man who is not conscious, painfully conscious, that he has offended God and incurred His just displeasure. Is there anything over and above which can be available to atone for any other wrong of life? How then can one act make amends for another act?
(b) By pleading temptations? Was not there a provision made quite sufficient to overcome it? And did not you know that there was?
(c) By pleading God’s mercy? Will you plead the mercy of God? Is He not just also? Would not His whole empire suffer by a false leniency or favouritism?
II. The way of escape.—Then, where will you run? What exit is there from God’s displeasure and your condign punishment but in the way of His own providing, faith in a Substitute? ‘How can you escape’ but by that one ‘great salvation’? And let me ask, Would God have sent His Son to die for this world if there could be any other way but that one? The coming of Christ has provided for you—
(a) A Brother, in the sympathies of a Man, and the power of God, always at your side.
(b) A Pattern, a Perfect Model, Whom you have nothing else to do but to follow, that you may secure a straight path and a happy life.
(c) A Teacher Whose teachings are the very mind of God.
(d) An Advocate Who both Himself pleads your cause with His Father and makes your poorest prayers and offerings acceptable before the throne.
(e) A Substitute Who has borne, in your stead, all your punishment.
(f) A Representative, the pledge of your own admission into heaven.
(g) A Righteousness in which you, even you, can stand in the presence of a holy God ‘perfect and entire, lacking nothing.’
Rev. James Vaughan.
‘Thursday, June 22, 1893, will long be marked as a day of mourning in the annals of the British Navy. The tidings of that day sent a thrill of horror and dismay through every English heart. It was in no time of war or tempest, but on summer seas, engaged in peaceful manœuvres with friends—not foes—that suddenly, almost without a warning, the proudest battleship that England owned heeled over, and in one short quarter of an hour entombed herself, and hundreds of her gallant crew, deep down in a watery grave. What did it mean? Was it really possible that the Admiral had blundered—the Admiral, than whom no braver man or more skilful sailor ever trod a deck? To this day a mystery surrounds the fatal order which cost his country, his family, and himself so dear. And yet the reluctant verdict of his peers compels the inference that it was through neglect—neglect to measure duly the distance required for the safe turning of the ships—that the irreparable mistake was made. Neglect! neglect! Who can measure its fatal consequences?’
AN UNANSWERED QUESTION
I. Salvation is great, because—
(a) Of its source.
(b) Of the blessings it confers.
(c) Of the cost at which it was procured.
II. What is it to neglect salvation?—Who are they that neglect it?
(a) Those who live in open sin neglect it.
(b) Those who are not in earnest in seeking it neglect it.
(c) Those who are content to live on without it neglect it.
III. How shall they escape who neglect it?—For the sinner who has neglected the offer of salvation there will be no escape. No escape! ‘How shall we escape?’ It is an unanswered question. The preacher does not answer it, God Himself does not answer it. It cannot be answered. There will be no escape.
Rev. E. W. Moore.
THE SAVIOUR’S CROWN
‘But we see Jesus, Who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour.’
What was the glory here spoken of? There was the glory of a great salvation for the lost children of men. The anticipation of this honour entered into that intercessory prayer recorded in the seventeenth chapter of St. John. Now this joint glory of the Father and the Son consisted in bringing many sons into glory. And in order thereto, Christ was to be set as a King upon His holy hill of Zion. ‘Crowned with glory and honour’:—
I. In that all things, both in heaven and earth, shall be subject to the kingdom of mediation (see Ephesians 1:20-23); and again, ‘All things were made by Him and for Him.’ ‘For Him,’ observe, that is, in His character as Mediator.
II. In that on the ascended Saviour should be concentrated all the homage and adoration of the heavenly world ( Php_2:10 ). This plainly affirms the dominion of Christ over all worlds, intelligences, and kingdoms. He is ‘God over all, blessed for ever.’
III. And therefore we make it a part of our daily prayer, ‘Thy kingdom come’: that is, that it may come in all the power of its converting and sanctifying grace upon our own hearts, in the sovereignty of its enlightening truth over the nations, in all the glory and majesty of the Second Advent. We look for a king and a kingdom; we look for an end of these conflicting days; we look for the coming of that day when all hearts shall bow to the regal dominion of Jesus; when ‘every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.’
—Rev. Prebendary D. Moore.
‘The kingdom of mediation embraces the visible and the invisible; the whole of our present mundane system was constructed with a view to afford a theatre magnificent enough for the work of Christ, and for the training of suitable instruments for the accomplishment of His great purposes. The Saviour’s exaltation reminds us then that we are subjects of the Mediator’s world; that the earth is the platform of an achieved redemption; that all things were made for, and put under the dominion of, the Crucified: “All power is given to Him in heaven and in earth.” All power to seal pardons; to impart gifts; to quicken, sanctify, redeem, save. It was needful that in all things He should have the preeminence. All beings, all worlds must see Him “crowned with glory and honour.” ’
THE VISION OF FAITH
Christ has gone into heaven. What is He doing there? Holy Scripture tells us at least two things.
I. He is pleading for His people on earth.—‘Who also maketh intercession for us’ ( Romans 8:33-34).
‘Comfortable thoughts arise when the believer thinks of Christ as a Priest on His throne pleading for Him. Luther says, “In deep spiritual temptations nothing has helped me better, with nothing have I driven away the devil better than with this, that Christ, the true eternal Son of God, is “bone of our hones, and flesh of our flesh”; and that He sits on the right hand of God, and pleads for us. When I can grasp this shield of faith, I have already chased away the evil one with his fiery darts.’
THE VICTORY OF SUFFERING
‘But we see Jesus, Who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death … perfect through sufferings.’
What stamps a thing on our mind like a sudden change from sorrow to joy, from despair to relief, from death to life, when the treasure that was lost is found, the life that seemed nearly gone is given back, when victory comes where we thought there was defeat? That was the change that passed over the disciples who, after seeing Jesus die, beheld Him risen again: after being with Christ in His hour of darkness came out into the light of His Resurrection. No wonder then that they drew the moral—who can be so dull as not to draw it?—which gave a new meaning to pain, and suffering, and death. No wonder that they learned to ‘rejoice in tribulations,’ to ‘glory in infirmities.’ It was because they had first learned to glory in the Cross of Jesus Christ.
This is a thing which matters so much in a world of pain and sorrow and suffering like this, that we ought to do our very best to lay hold of what it means for us, of the help and comfort that there is in it.
I. They had seen in Christ the example of unequalled suffering.—But all this—so they found when Jesus rose—led to life and glory and immortality.
II. And did they not feel in part why this was—that something was done which without the suffering could not have been done—that faultless as He had always been, He was ‘made perfect’ (His goodness was made fuller in some way) ‘through sufferings’; that somehow through His death more good was wrought than even by all the ‘going about doing good’ of His life; that the purpose of His life was brought to a finish; yes, and the purpose and will of God through His life was wrought out by this Death, by the obedience which was ‘obedient unto death, even the Death of the Cross’?
III. Think a little how much this means for us.
( a) Think of labour—of our work. Our brains know the trial of overwork when the full strain passes into overstrain; and sometimes it is so with all. Rightly borne this too may turn to the workers’ good. Yes! for there is room in it for your share of the patience of Christ: for you as for Him ‘tribulation worketh experience, and experience hope.’ No wonder that the first disciples of Christ felt ready for any labour and travail, toil and moil. For the mark of His Cross was on their work.
( b) There is another great piece of hardness in the world besides the hardness of work: it is the hardness of doing right. It costs something to do right. No doubt in the end doing wrong costs much more dearly; and after all, ‘it is better if the will of God be so that ye suffer for well-doing than for evil-doing.’ Still, there it is, doing right steadily means bearing a good deal.
( c) There is also all the suffering that comes upon us by man’s doing or God’s will. Some of it is brought upon the innocent and helpless by the thoughtlessness or wickedness of others; not only the pinching poverty and hunger of the drunkard’s or the gambler’s home, but the loneliness that nobody visits, the sadness that nobody is thoughtful enough to comfort. But need I go on? the dumb sorrows, the bitter partings, the heartbreaking bereavements of life—how they cry and plead with God for some message of pity and mercy; and what message has He given?
IV. The message of the Man of Sorrows, acquainted with grief, bearing sorrow, tasting death, nailed there upon the wicked, useless, wasteful Cross, from which He cannot get away, from which He will not come down—but there accepted, exalted, glorified by the power of Him that raised Him from the dead. That message comes to those who suffer to strengthen them in patience, to help them in bearing, to turn pain into discipline; enabling them to say, Thy Will be done; strengthening them to wait for the blessing promised to him whom God chastens and teaches. That message has in it the secret of Christian resignation, of the humbleness which does not cavil or murmur, or reply against God; of that wonderful faith which under God’s discipline and correction learns deeper love of God.
—Bishop E. S. Talbot.
‘When you hear or read of the sufferings of your Lord, apply the sacred story to your own case. See what it has to teach you, and pray for grace to put the lesson into practice. The Passion of the Lord Jesus, and the way He endured all that came upon Him, will show us where we have failed. But will that be all? No. We should be contemplating the Cross of Jesus altogether amiss, if we only learnt from it to look at ourselves. Indeed, we should only learn to despair, for, like Judas, we should find that by our sins we had “betrayed the innocent blood.” But thank God, as we gaze on that bruised and tortured Form, we find comfort and hope. For He that suffers is “the Captain of our salvation.” He is our Leader, Who beckons us on to follow Him. It is indeed a rough and stony path He has to tread, but love makes it smooth, and it leads on to victory and immortality.’
THE FEAR OF DEATH
‘Through fear of death … all their lifetime subject to bondage.’
The fear of death has established over the human heart something like a reign of terror. All of us in our place in the world have known at some period of our life what this bondage means. The child in the loneliness of thoughtful childhood shudders with a vague, instinctive fear; the boy, realising in a moment that some day he must die, feels panic; the society idol, in some moment of reaction, collapses under the conviction that the grave is inevitable; the man of affairs, afraid to name death plainly, hides his fear under that euphemistic commonplace, ‘If anything should happen to me.’
What has the Christian to say to all this bondage of death? What has the Christian to do with it? Irresolute children of the dust, no doubt, we are, but we are also children of the Resurrection. What have we, I ask, to say to this instinctive fear of death? The Christian frankly challenges the whole situation. The Christian substitutes for this instinctive reign of terror the revealed reign of Jesus Christ.
If this be so, what is our practical duty towards our King in this connection? In a word, what can I do, such as I am in my place in life—what can I do to deliver the soul of any one, or my own soul, from this bondage of the fear of death?
I. We should frankly accept the punishment, and then death becomes also God’s best blessing.—Yet if death is, in a sense, unnatural, if it has come into the world, so to speak, since God’s original plans were laid so that we naturally shrink from it, it is also true to say that it is now become neutralised, that it has been the punishment so long for all the race, the punishment decreed by the love and unerring wisdom of God, and therefore it is now as natural to die as to be born, and its naturalness robs it of half its pain.
II. We should begin at once to educate children to be familiar with the fact of death, for if we begin to educate children we shall soon educate public opinion, soon educate ordinary talk to a higher level of truth than that along which it usually runs now. If death is one of God’s decrees, it must be right that even His little ones should be taught about it in the right way as soon as they are able to learn.
III. All should become familiar with the phenomena of death.—Learn all you can about it. Sometimes you will go to your doctor, possibly, and ask him, and, if he is strong enough to be something more than a mere naturalist, he can tell you much that will interest you wonderfully and go far to rob you of any fear that you can have; and, even if he is a mere naturalist, he can tell you very much that will help you in this matter. Go to your parish priest, ask him what he has seen with his own eyes, what he has touched, so to speak, with the fingers of his own Gospel. He will tell you very much that will take away largely your fear of death. He will tell you, amongst other things, how wonderfully God softens the approach of death; how, as a rule, before the end comes, the fear of death has passed quite away from those who are passing with it.
IV. Realise that, after all, death only applies to the body; and the body is not the soul. The body must die, no doubt, unless Christ comes back before our call comes; but the body is not the personality, the identity. You cannot die; you will be laid in no grave; you are immortal.
V. To pass to a higher level, I would ask you all, in dealing with the fear of death, if you have ever realised that in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, humbly accepted at the hands of Jesus Christ, lies our guarantee that we must survive the shock of death?
VI. There is a revealed truth which our Creed teaches us to classify under the heading ‘The Communion of Saints,’ the article of our Creed about which most of us know least, and to learn which apparently few of us care very much. But under that heading lies the comfort of Jesus Christ for those who decline any longer to submit their lives to this cruel bondage.
Surely, surely upon the valley of the shadow of death the living, pitiful eyes of Jesus Christ were steadily set on that great day when He said to us, ‘I am come that they might have Life, and that they might have it more abundantly.’
—Rev. E. S. Hilliard.
DELIVERANCE FROM BONDAGE
The way in which Christ takes away fear of death is plain, and it is effectual. He does it simply by making application, through the agency of His Spirit, to the individual soul of the truths about death which He came to reveal.
I. Christ teaches us that death is not the end of our being.
II. Christ teaches us that the soul does not wait in the grave for the resurrection of the body.
III. Christ takes away our fear of death, by teaching us, if we are willing to be taught of Him, how we may meet our Maker without fear, in the great day when He will judge the world.
IV. Christ reveals, to those who are willing to be taught of Him, the rest and the blessedness of heaven, and gives to each soul an inward assurance that it shall eternally share in them.
‘The fear of death is a sentiment, a deep feeling, and it can only be exterminated by something which takes a still more profound hold of our moral nature. Religion is competent to eradicate it, if it be received into the heart. And it will do so in the precise proportion that we make such an inward application of its precious truths.’
THE HELP OF CHRIST
‘Able to succour.’
We are always more or less in need of help, but this passage suggests that there are special times in our lives when that need is felt more than others.
I. Times of trial are very varied in human life.
( a) Sometimes they are seasons of temporal trouble and distress.
( b) There are times of spiritual darkness and perplexity.
( c) There are times of physical weakness when health seems gone, and help is sorely needed.
II. What is the manner of Christ’s help?
( a) By the teaching of His Word.
( b) By the anointing of His Spirit.
III. How can Christ help?—The context supplies the answer. Let me give it you in four words.
( a) The first is conformity. We read in Hebrews 2:17, ‘In all things it behoved Him to be made like unto His brethren.’
( b) Conformity led up to consecration. Here in this verse we have it, He was to be a High Priest.
( c) Further, we have his character as High Priest described. He is merciful and He is faithful.
( d) Lastly, there is His compassion.
—Rev. E. W. Moore.
‘Surely if we may venture to imagine the peace of Paradise or glory of heaven being more acceptable to some saved souls than to others, we might, perhaps, picture them as being especially so to such as have been grievously tempted here below, but have fought steadily against their temptations. The trials of Scripture saints seem to point to this belief, and outside the inspired page tradition and legend appear to favour this conclusion. The spiritual trials of St. Bernard or St. Dunstan, or St. Catharine of Sienna, were mediæval repetitions or shapings of the experiences of St. Paul, or of Job or Joseph.’
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Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Hebrews 2". The Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany